The Lightning returned home and finished the job yesterday. They defeated the Bruins 3-1 in Game 5 to eliminate Boston in the second round series. They’ll now await the winner between the Penguins and Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final. Washington can advance with a win tonight at Pittsburgh in Game 6.
Tampa beat a quality opponent in five games by using their superior depth and speed to outplay Boston five-on-five. In fact, the Bruins didn’t score a even strength goal the last three games. It was the Lightning who took control by continuing to pound away at the Boston defense until it wore down. They didn’t just use their speed and skill but finished checks at every turn. That included a clean hit by J.T. Miller on American idol David Backes that knocked him out of Sunday’s game.
Classy stuff from Miller, who scored the series clincher with a power play goal that put the Bolts ahead to stay. If only more players showed that kind of remorse following hits that injure players. At least his was clean with him just standing up Backes knocking him to the ice. A lot can be learned here from what the former Ranger said. You don’t laugh at injured opponents after vicious cheap shots like the one Tom Wilson delivered on 23-year old Staten Island native Zach Aston-Reese that concussed him and broke his jaw. It earned the controversial Wilson three games off.
More than anything, Tampa is back in its third Conference Final the last four years due to its excellence of execution. Something that would make Bret “The Hitman” Hart proud. They followed coach Jon Cooper’s script to a tee by winning most of the five-on-five battles to wear out the Bruins. It didn’t help that key defenseman Torey Krug went down with a potentially serious ankle injury in Game 4. To hear losing netminder Tuukka Rask tell it, his team had no chance at even strength. A telling quote during the postgame. He was by far the Bruins’ best player with old reliable Patrice Bergeron right behind. Not surprisingly, he offered no excuses.
The Bolts have been aided by the additions of former Blueshirts Miller, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman. All played important roles in helping them advance. In particular, Tampa captain Steven Stamkos had high praise for vets Callahan, Girardi and McDonagh and Chris Kunitz following the victory. The portion of the clip starts at 3:04 and ends at 3:48 on that experience helping.
There’s no doubt that what they were able to do following a 6-2 Game 1 loss was impressive. As Stamkos noted, the blowout might’ve actually helped wake them up. He said they came out a little flat from the layoff but responded very well by winning the next four to stun the Bruins.
Stamkos also discussed how important Brayden Point was in the series win. He scored the tying goal yesterday and his line with Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson were much better following a dismal first game. As were McDonagh and the team defense. Also emphasized was how focused they were on shutting down the Boston top line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak at five-on-five. An area Tampa excelled at the final three games blanking Boston. Something unforeseen.
McDonagh talked to the media at his locker about how they were able to turn it around. If I could point to one play by the former Ranger captain, it would be the hit he laid on Marchand while shorthanded. It resulted in a boarding minor penalty putting his team two men down. But that was the kind of edge the Lightning needed to play with. McDonagh and the rest of the Bolts were more physical throughout. It was mostly McDonagh and Girardi who drew the assignment after Cooper put Stralman back with Victor Hedman.
Sometimes, that kind of gritty style can frustrate opponents. In addition, the Bolts got plenty out of the third and fourth line. The third consisted of Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde and Alex Killorn, who set up Girardi’s crushing overtime winner in Game 4. Cirelli was often parked in front of Rask screening him while Gourde was his feisty self.
The fourth line of Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Callahan were thorns in the side for the B’s. They won puck battles and forechecked and hit every chance they had. Callahan didn’t let Marchand get underneath his skin following the low bridge and licking incident that was ugly for the Bruins and NHL. He got in his face and continued to play the same style he always has by getting in on the cycle, finishing checks and blocking shots. They really were a effective line.
Not surprisingly, Callahan replied, “No words were exchanged,” on the handshake between him and Marchand when asked about it. He moved on. That’s what makes him such a good leader.
It’ll be interesting to see who they draw next. Is it finally time for Alexander Ovechkin to beat Sidney Crosby and make a Conference Final? We’ll get a better answer tonight in Game 6.
In the mean time, the Lightning will be standing in the way. Former Blueshirts and all.