Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Fennelly: Which Lightning team will show up for Game 5?

Saturday the Lightning made it safely onto its plane for Pittsburgh and tonight's Game 5 of a knotted Eastern Conference final. No one tripped while climbing the ramp or struck their head going through the door. This is news.

Bad luck seems to stalk these guys. On Friday, during Game 4 warmups — warmups! — Lightning center Tyler Johnson was a bloody mess after taking a puck in the mouth, a Jonathan Drouin shot that bonked off the goal.

Johnson showed up Saturday with a wickedly swollen upper lip. I'm sure it took several stitches and more than one lollipop from the dentist.

Of course, it was also Johnson who played in Game 4 and scored what proved to be the winning goal in a wild 4-3 win over the Penguins. I think it went in off his leg. Okay, maybe the Lightning is a little lucky, too. And it's more than a little alive.

Onward.

Which Lightning will show up for Game 5?

"Well, that's a good question," defenseman Victor Hedman said.

Will it be the Lightning that was battered in Game 3 or the Lightning that jumped on Game 4? Will it be the Lightning that looked bloody marvelous in grabbing a 4-0 lead after 40 minutes Friday or the Lightning that nearly collapsed in the final 20 minutes?

It's Game 5. It's about taking the body. It's about being strong on the puck. It's about going in those dirty areas. It's about not chasing the game. It's about playing desperate hockey. A source close to the team said it also will be very important for the Lightning to keep its nose to the grindstone.

Which Lightning will show up tonight?

"The big change from last game to this game is we realized what we were doing wrong," defenseman Anton Stralman said after Game 4. "The effort level, the battles, puck management … it was a long freaking list of what was wrong. When we play to our potential, we're tough to beat. Just like we have before, we turned the page. Now we have to turn it again and move on from Game 4."

Playoff momentum tends to be fleeting.

Forget game to game or period to period.

Momentum changes shift to shift.

"I think when you start peeling down a series, now you're down to a best of three, ultimately you're probably getting two desperate teams," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I don't know if you're going to get anyone's B game as we move forward here."

Which Lightning will show up tonight?

The Lightning that gets in Pittsburgh's grill or the Lightning that backs up and plays into the Penguins' swift, potent attack?

The Lighting can win this series with either Andrei Vasilevskiy or Ben Bishop (no status update) in goal. It can lose it with either Vasilevskiy or Bishop in goal.

If this team shows up like Ryan Callahan did 27 seconds into Friday's game with that first goal and the rest of the night with his physical play, it can beat the Penguins.

If Tyler Johnson can take Pittsburgh's — and Drouin's — best shot and still come up big, anything remains possible. A broken mouth isn't a broken wrist, like the one that haunted Johnson and his team in last year's Stanley Cup final.

Yes, anything remains possible.

It still might be an awful good idea to win Game 5.

Back to Johnson's mouthful …

"When somebody came in and told me what had happened, it was just almost one of those, you know, I should just expect this to happen," Cooper said, smiling. "Now the talk is somebody should shoot one in Johnny's mouth in warmups in Game 5, because I thought he had a (great) game."

Which Lightning will show up tonight?

It's worth asking. And answering.

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