Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning earns relaxation time thanks to Game 5 clincher (w/video)

TAMPA — They can lounge around all day, maybe take a nap, catch a little Judge Judy.

They can sleep in, grab a late lunch, play 18 holes.

Somebody said something about a beach.

Yep, the Lightning players can do whatever they want today. What they don't have to do is get on a plane, fly to Detroit, practice and continue their playoff series with the Red Wings.

They made sure of that Thursday night. The game was ugly. The score was beautiful.

Tampa Bay 1, Detroit 0.

That's it. Series won. It wasn't easy, but it's over. Five games. There won't be a Game 6. Cancel that flight to Motown.

"I'm so happy that I don't have to get on a plane (today)," Lightning forward Alex Killorn said.

Killorn made sure of that, scoring the game's only goal with 1:43 left in the third period.

Staying put, but moving on. On to the next round.

Before then, the Lightning will get some much-needed rest. Don't underestimate how critical that is.

Aside from taking the first step in the Stanley Cup playoffs, that's the best thing for the Lightning. It now can put its feet up for a few days before continuing its journey through the most grueling tournament in sports.

The Lightning might not play again for a week. Rust versus rest? It's no contest.

"Rest wins every time," coach Jon Cooper said.

Especially this time of year.

"It doesn't hurt," goalie Ben Bishop said.

Not only that, a few days off also buys more time for injured regulars such as defenseman Anton Stralman and forward J.T. Brown to, perhaps, work their way back into the lineup.

It also gives the Lightning a chance to survive what sounds like a flu-type bug that is making the rounds through the locker room and might have sidelined Tyler Johnson for several shifts Thursday.

The Lightning definitely can use a break.

"We need to get away and get healthy," Cooper said. "We snuck one out tonight, and if we're going to go any farther than this, we need to get healthy and play a heck of a lot better than this."

Truth be told, the Lightning wasn't very good in Game 5. The way Cooper graded it, his team was a C, while the Red Wings were an A. But Bishop was an A-plus. He's the lone reason why the Lightning is moving on.

Tampa Bay is better than Detroit and deserved to win the series. But it didn't deserve to win Thursday. The team was sloppy. Maybe a tad nervous. Maybe it had something to do with the old fourth-win-is-the-toughest cliche.

But Bishop made 34 saves. It felt as if 30 were top-notch chances. Three were on breakaways. He had help from a goalpost, too.

Looking back, how did Detroit not win this game?

Bishop was king. Checkmate.

Sooner or later, Bishop was going to steal a game in this series. Thursday was that game.

"If not for Bish, we're going back to Detroit," forward Ryan Callahan said.

The Lightning's 4-1 series victory comes with concerns. Tampa Bay advances but not in especially pretty fashion against an underwhelming team. Sorry, but the Red Wings just aren't that good.

Yet give Tampa Bay credit: It won a series without Stralman and, most of all, captain and leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos.

"It was tough, but we weren't going to feel bad for ourselves for one second," Callahan said. "Obviously, you don't draw up losing two key guys like that, but as soon as it happened and we found out they weren't playing, we moved past it and we tried to, as a group, be good."

They were good, or at least good enough to win this series.

Nikita Kucherov was a monster, at times leaving you to wonder if he (and not Stamkos) is the best and most-skilled player on this team. Jonathan Drouin came back from the dead to take his game to new heights. He is clearly a different player than he was a season ago when he was often a healthy scratch in the postseason.

Killorn and Johnson were outstanding, scoring big goals at key times. Defenseman Victor Hedman, who is regularly now playing 30 minutes a game, is once again turning the postseason into his own personal platform, saving his best for the most important part of the year.

And, of course, there's Bishop.

Next up for Tampa Bay is either the cross-state Panthers or the Islanders. Either team will present a much greater challenge than the Red Wings. The good news for Tampa Bay is that while the Islanders and Panthers continue to slug it out with their best-of-seven series tied at two games apiece, the Lightning will be home relaxing for a few days.

Maybe it can hang out at the beach for a day or two. Soak up the sun. Get healthy.

Then when it returns to practice, probably sometime over the weekend, it can try to fix up that inconsistent power play, which it will need moving forward. Maybe it can find another goal-scorer or two.

There's more work to be done. Time to get ready for a really tough series.

After a few days of rest.

Comments
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning shut out Blackhawks

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning shut out Blackhawks

CHICAGO — Turns out, Andrei Vasilevskiy is all right.And, believe it or not, so is the Lightning’s penalty kill, which was the unlikely hero in Monday’s streak-snapping 2-0 win over the Blackhawks at the United Center.Vasilevskiy, 23, played like the...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning angered by slash that has Ondrej Palat out 6-8 weeks

Lightning angered by slash that has Ondrej Palat out 6-8 weeks

CHICAGO — The Lightning got more bad news Monday with wing Ondrej Palat out 6-8 weeks with a lower-body injury. It’s a big blow to a struggling Tampa Bay team, which is now without its top defense­man (Victor Hedman) and now arguably its best defensi...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Lightning-Blackhawks

Matt Peca and Michael Bournival likely won’t be the last callups by the Lightning the next month or so. There are plenty of other deserving candidates at AHL Syracuse, with Adam Erne likely getting a shot had he not been injured. With Ondrej Palat ou...
Updated: 7 hours ago

NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition gets some changes

Skills Competition gets a new lookThe NHL switched up its format for Saturday’s All-Star Game Skills Competition (7 p.m, NBSCN). There will be six events, including the traditional hardest shot, accuracy shooting, plus a passing challenge, puck contr...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lightning’s Ondrej Palat to be out six to eight weeks

Lightning’s Ondrej Palat to be out six to eight weeks

The Lightning will be without Ondrej Palat six to eight weeks. And  Tampa Bay is still ticked by how Palat got hurt.The Wild's Jared Spurgeon slashed/speared the back of the Lightning wing's right ankle on a power play Saturday."It's a huge loss...
Published: 01/22/18
Matt Peca, Michael Bournival hope to spark Lightning

Matt Peca, Michael Bournival hope to spark Lightning

When Matt Peca had his best training camp with the Lightning back in September, coach Jon Cooper said he learned the 5-foot-9 forward was someone the Lightning would be able to count on at some point this season.Turns out, that time is now.Peca, 27, ...
Published: 01/22/18
Add swagger to Lightning’s loss column

Add swagger to Lightning’s loss column

CHICAGO — It didn’t take the sound of a door slamming in the visitor’s dressing room Saturday night to sense this Lightning team is frustrated.Tampa Bay believed it had worked hard against the Wild — at least, harder than it did in Thursday’s letharg...
Published: 01/21/18
Jones: Saluting CBS, honesty and goats (not to be confused with GOATS)

Jones: Saluting CBS, honesty and goats (not to be confused with GOATS)

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.Best coverageThe best football broadcast I’ve ever seen was Super Bowl XLIII. That was NBC’s coverage of the Steelers’ last-minute victory over th...
Published: 01/21/18
Expansion Golden Knights pass Lightning for top spot in NHL

Expansion Golden Knights pass Lightning for top spot in NHL

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Golden Knights are giving Vegas a great odds-beating story in their first year.The expansion team has the whole league playing catchup.James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault scored to help Vegas beat the Hurricanes 5-1 on Sunday and...
Published: 01/21/18
What’s gone wrong with Lightning?

What’s gone wrong with Lightning?

It didn't take the sound of a door slamming in the dressing room Saturday night to sense this Lightning team is frustrated.Tampa Bay felt like it worked hard – at least, harder than Thursday's listless loss to Vegas – yet dropped another ...
Published: 01/21/18