The Tampa Bay Lightning simply don’t lose two in a row.
It’s part of their identity in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. So no surprise that they were ready for the Dallas Stars on Monday night, riding a three-goal outburst in the first period to a 3-2 win in Game 2 of the final.
“We had a 3-0 lead and gave up two,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper. “One thing we’ve never done is put ourselves in panic mode. Instead of trying to protect a lead, we went out there and kind of took it to them. We were completely engaged, calm on the bench. We don’t go through the waves of the game.”
They’re 6-0 in games after a loss. Tampa has now won its 11th game of the playoffs by one goal. Only Montreal (in 1993) and Anaheim (in 2007 and 2003) have won more, at 12 each.
“This time of year, you have to be able to lock those down,” said defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored what held up as the winning goal. “Teams are going to make pushes and get within one. We just don’t panic. You realize when you have three-, two-goal leads, you have that cushion. Play the right way and things will turn out all right.”
We got a series, as they say. Here’s how it’s playing out.
The Stars were going after Kucherov – the best pure points producer on either team – pretty hard in the early going. He even went down the tunnel after he hit the boards hard early in the first period. Things didn’t look good.
“I left because my visor was broken,” said Kucherov.
He said it like he meant it. He came back and set up two power-play goals midway through the first, with those pretty passes he makes. One to Brayden Point, one to Ondrej Palat. Roughly two minutes apart.
Kucherov now has six goals and 22 assists for 28 points, a franchise record for a single playoff season for the Lightning. Brad Richards had 26 points in Tampa’s 2004 Cup win.
But the passing and the points aren’t what endear him to coach Cooper.
“Everybody looks at the wonderful skill plays he makes, but you look at his battle level. When he goes in for 50/50 (puck battles) or 40/60s and still comes out with the puck, it’s impressive. That’s it for me. How hard he’s working and those gritty things that guys get a lot of accolades for when they don’t have that skill level. But when you have that skill he does and he still does that, it’s pretty impressive.”
Whatever Tampa did in the third period of their Game 1 loss when they outshot Dallas 22-2, they bottled and brought with them for the first period, opening up that 3-0 lead. They found their footing. The power play, which had been awful in an 0-for-15 run, connected twice. Shattenkirk added his goal 54 seconds after Palat’s. Then suddenly the Lightning looked like themselves, playing their skilled game.
“It’s easy to explain,” said Stars coach Rick Bowness. “We lost faceoffs, we were turning the puck over, and we were taking penalties. Things you can’t afford to do against an elite club like that.”
But the Stars are heavyweights. Bowness stuck with Anton Khudobin, who didn’t yield another goal, and Dallas crawled back with 17 shots in the second period, getting a goal from Joe Pavelski. Mattias Janmark scored in the third.
Let’s get physical
It was a parade of players to the room for what looked like medical reasons in a game with 101 hits handed out. The only player who failed to finish the game was Blake Comeau, after taking a hit from Victor Hedman.
There were no apologies for the rough stuff.
“The intensity of today’s game … and this is only Game 2. I can’t imagine how this is going to be moving forward,” said Cooper. “But both teams want to win and you have to stress to your team you have to play between the whistles. For the most part we did.
“But you can’t go into these where you bring a knife, they bring a gun. You got to load up too. It’s tough to control. As coaches you can preach it all you want, but you’re not in the trenches. But our guys have been pretty good about it all year.”
-Andrei Vasilevskiy improved to 6-0 in games following a loss in the 2020 post-season. Only one goaltender in NHL history has recorded more such wins in a single playoff year: Nikolai Khabibulin (7-0, also with Tampa).
-The Lightning sat Luke Schenn and Zach Bogosian, inserting Jan Rutta on the blue line and playing with 12 forwards and six defencemen, which is rare for them. Cooper said one of the two was a coach’s decision, the other was unfit to play. He didn’t specify which was which.
-Pavelski and Point both got their 10th goal of the playoffs as someone finally caught Bo Horvat for the playoff lead in that category. Horvat got to 10 by the end of the second round and hasn’t played since Sept. 5.
-Tampa Bay’s win guaranteed that there will not be a best-of-seven sweep. The last four-game sweep in the Cup final was 1998, the Red Wings over the Capitals.
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