TAMPA — If the Lightning's star unit in Game 4 against the Red Wings was a resurgent power play that scored all three goals in a 3-2 win Tuesday, the unsung hero was the other part of special teams: a penalty kill that has kept Tampa Bay in penalty-filled games.
"They've saved us," coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday. "It's kind of gone a little unnoticed, but it hasn't gone unnoticed in the locker room."
Killing penalties was one of the Lightning's strengths in the regular season. Only six teams in the league killed off more power plays than Tampa Bay (84 percent). That success has continued into the first round of the playoffs. Tampa Bay has allowed only one goal in Detroit's 21 power-play chances in taking a 3-1 series lead.
Some of the effectiveness comes from C Valtteri Filppula's ability to defuse threats by winning faceoffs, Cooper said. Some comes from the stability of penalty-killing pairs Filppula and RW Ryan Callahan and C Brian Boyle and LW Ondrej Palat.
"We had the whole season to tune up the structure," D Andrej Sustr said. "I think we've been doing a really good job. Guys are sticking to the structure, sticking together out there. Guys are making sacrifices, blocking shots."
Though the penalty kill has kept the Lightning in tight games, Cooper doesn't want to rely on it as much as he has had to. Detroit's 21 power plays were the most in the postseason entering Wednesday, and the Lightning killed seven of them in Game 3, a 2-0 Detroit win.
"Once you start getting up into the five, six, seven, now you're taking your team out of your flow," Cooper said.
QUICK FINISH: Detroit's motivation for winning tonight's Game 5 at Amalie Arena is obvious: A loss ends its season. The Lightning believes it also has something to play before beyond a trip to the second round: rest.
"To have the opportunity to end it in five games, it just gives you rest," Cooper said. "Everybody gets to regroup, reload for the next round instead of the continuing grind, then all of a sudden having to jump into a new series."
Tampa Bay knows that accomplishing that goal won't be easy. The Red Wings' best performance of the series came after dropping the first two games, outshooting the Lightning 30-16 in Game 3.
"They're going to be a team that's really desperate, just like they were in Game 3," RW Alex Killorn said. "We have to be ready for that, but we look forward to the challenge."
'BLACK ACES' called up: D Slater Koekkoek and 2014 first-round draft pick D Anthony DeAngelo were among the 12 players called up from AHL Syracuse to be the group of extra playoff players known in hockey as the "black aces." Koekkoek has appeared in 12 NHL games over the past two seasons. The other players are defensemen Dylan Blujus and Luke Witkowski; forwards Adam Erne, Tye McGinn, Matthew Peca, Brayden Point, Tanner Richard and Joel Vermin; and goalies Kristers Gudlevskis and Adam Wilcox.