Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena, The Tampa Bay Lightning completed one of the most improbable comebacks you will ever see in the playoffs.
Trailing 4-2 mid-way through the second period, The Lightning looked about as interested in playing hockey as I am going grocery shopping with my wife.
There was a lot of standing around. It’s looked as if they were skating in quicksand. No one was putting a body on opposing players standing in the crease. This ten-minute stretch of hockey was as bad as the Lightning has played in the playoffs this season.
Then, just like that, the improbable happened. First, Nikita Kucherov scored a power-play goal to cut the lead to 4-3. Then, Tyler Johnson scored his first goal of the playoffs two and half minutes later to tie it up at two as the Lightning started their comeback.
Kucherov said the team remained calm on the bench down two goals and knew what they had to do. “You could see the guys responding well. The bench stayed calm. We knew what to do; we just had to make that switch and start playing the right way. Take care of our zone and create some chances down there, and that’s what we did.”
The Lightning kept the pressure on the Carolina defense, though, as Steven Stamkos scored another power play goal his fifth of the playoffs as the Lightning took a 5-4 lead that they would never relinquish in pushing the Hurricanes to the brink of elimination.
Nikita Kucherov would add an insurance goal in the third period to seal the victory for the Lightning making it a 6-4 final.
This was a game where we saw three different styles of play from the Lightning, styles that we have seen all season, especially during this playoff run.
In the first period, the Lightning played an excellent defensive game as they took a 1-0 lead on a Braydon Point goal and held the Hurricanes off the scoreboard.
In the second period, the Lightning played some of the most uninspiring hockey for the first ten minutes of the period that we had seen before they flipped the switch and started their comeback.
The second half of the period saw the Lightning play a wide-open offensive style game as they scored three unanswered goals in just over five minutes to take a 5-4 lead.
Then in the third period, the Lightning suffocated the Hurricanes offensive attack. The Bolts held Carolina to two shots on goal until the Hurricanes pulled their goaltender, and the Canes were able to get a couple of shots on Vasilevskiy with the extra attacker.
There were eight goals scored in the second period, one shy of the record nine goals scored by Calgary and Los Angeles in 1990.
Jon Cooper talked about the crazy second period. “That was chaotic. It’s a damn circus out there, but definitely no refunds after that one. Take your coach’s hat off, and it was one hell of an entertaining second period.”
Nikita Kucherov had two goals and one assist in the Lightning win and currently leads the NHL with 17 points in the post-season.
Cooper talked about the impact that Kucherov had on the game. “To be honest, he might have taken the game over. Clearly, we lost control a little bit in the second period, and he’d been hit in a tough manner by one of their guys, and he just channeled his energy the right way.”
“He was just making plays all over the place. I thought he might’ve been the best player on the ice tonight. When Kuch is doing some of the stuff he did tonight, he’s borderline unstoppable. It’s great to see him do what he did tonight because we definitely needed him.”
The Lightning power play was lethal once again as they converted 3/6 power play opportunities. With Kucherov on the power play, this unit is almost unstoppable at times. The Lightning is 6/14 on the power play in this series and is 14/34 in the playoffs for a 41 percent conversion rate.
The Lightning leads the series with Carolina three games to one and will look to close out the series Tuesday night in Raleigh.