TAMPA — Much has been made about the stars the Lightning doesn't have, and how that might thwart any chance of the defending Eastern Conference champion making a lengthy run.
But in Wednesday's thrilling 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the first round against the Red Wings, Tampa Bay displayed the formula — with the key players it still has — to survive without injured top scorer Steven Stamkos and top-pair defenseman Anton Stralman.
There was goalie Ben Bishop as the backbone, making 34 saves, including five in the final 70 seconds. There was Nikita Kucherov, his 30 regular-season goals behind only Stamkos, putting the Lightning on his back with two goals. And there was defenseman Victor Hedman, who had a monster all-around game in a game-high 29:26 before an announced 19,092 at Amalie Arena.
"It's definitely tough when you lose big parts of our team like that, but everybody has to step up and do their part," said Tyler Johnson, who had two assists in his return from an upper-body injury. "You can't sulk in it. Detroit isn't doing us any favors. We've got to play our game, and guys have to step up like they did (Wednesday).
The Lightning rarely made it easy on itself in a season filled with inconsistency. So why start now in what promises to be a nasty, fun and long series? Tampa Bay had to overcome a one-goal, second-period deficit, then an overturned go-ahead goal by Hedman in the third, negated after Jonathan Drouin was ruled offside on a Detroit challenge.
"Guys weren't rattled," coach Jon Cooper said. "We weren't sitting there saying, 'Poor us.' Our response was outstanding."
Less than two minutes later, Alex Killorn delivered the game-winner, a spectacular redirection in the crease of a Johnson pass. Killorn had broken his stick seconds earlier, racing to the bench for a new one, then darting for the net. "First time I touched that stick," he said.
Kucherov said he doesn't feel any extra pressure to produce without Stamkos, who had a team-high 36 goals. But the Russian wing, whom Alex Ovechkin believes can eventually score 50 "easily," is definitely capable.
"He's finding a way to rise to the occasion in big moments," Cooper said. "And that's what great players do."
And wing Drouin, potentially an X-factor in this series, came through. Entrusted with high-leverage minutes late in a one-goal game, matched up with the Pavel Datsyuk/Henrik Zetterberg line, Drouin was active, with three shots, two hits and four penalty minutes in 18:09.
"He earned what he's been getting," Cooper said.
But the biggest minutes went to Hedman, who will have to shoulder that heavy load without his smooth Swedish partner in Stralman (fractured leg). This was reminiscent of Hedman's Conn Smythe Trophy-caliber performance last postseason.
"It's nice to see the guys that carried us last year are the guys that helped carry us in Game 1," Cooper said. "Hopefully, that keeps going."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 1 (Johnson, Killorn), 6:23. Penalties—Sustr, TB (tripping), 10:47; Kronwall, Det (slashing), 11:12; DeKeyser, Det (high-sticking), 19:50; Boyle, TB (charging), 20:00.
Second Period—2, Detroit, Green 1 (DeKeyser, Tatar), 2:11. 3, Detroit, Abdelkader 1 (Quincey), 4:07. 4, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 2 (Coburn, Nesterov), 9:29. Penalties—Drouin, TB (roughing), 6:34; Helm, Det (roughing), 11:42; DeKeyser, Det (roughing), 11:42; Larkin, Det (roughing), 11:42; Coburn, TB, double minor (roughing), 11:42; Killorn, TB (interference), 11:42; Garrison, TB (hooking), 13:49; Abdelkader, Det (slashing), 15:32.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Killorn 1 (Johnson, Kucherov), 8:52. Penalties—Drouin, TB (cross-checking), 2:50; Abdelkader, Det (interference), 11:42; Abdelkader, Det (roughing), 19:49; Palat, TB (roughing), 19:49; Zetterberg, Det (charging), 20:00. Shots on Goal—Detroit 13-13-10—36. Tampa Bay 8-12-14—34. Power-play opportunities—Detroit 0 of 5; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—Detroit, Howard 0-1-0 (34 shots-31 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 1-0-0 (36-34). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:48.