Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning battles through more adversity, but falls in Game 2 (w/video)

PITTSBURGH — The first bit of bad news came just moments before the start of Game 2.

Another Lightning player went down. Heart-and-souler Ryan Callahan. Bitten by the flu bug.

What else is new? It's always something with this bunch. Hang around them long enough and an anvil is liable to fall on your head.

Flu. Blood clots. Freak leg injuries. Team trainer Tommy Mulligan is working so hard he might get a few Conn Smythe votes.

One star returns, another goes down. Defenseman Anton Stralman was back, playing for the first time since fracturing his leg on March 25. But Callahan was out, joining goalie Ben Bishop and captain Steven Stamkos on the sideline.

Yet the Lightning forged ahead. Another obstacle. Another hurdle. Another ready-made and completely valid excuse if it wanted.

Think about that for a second. Its best goalie, its best goal scorer and its best and grittiest two-way player all out of the lineup.

But no bellyaching from the boys in blue and white with the Lighting bolt on the chest. Instead, it rolled up its sleeves and went back to work with whoever wasn't sick or hurt.

Eventually, however, all of it catches up to you. Some nights, the obstacles are just too much. Some nights, the hurdles are just too high.

Monday was that night. A golden opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. A golden opportunity lost.

It took overtime, but the Lightning lost. Pens star Sidney Crosby scored the winner 40 seconds into overtime. Now the Lightning comes home tied at 1-1. Not bad, but oh what could have been.

"I don't want to sit here and say, 'Oh, we got one,' '' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We came here to get two.''

Honestly, the way it has played so far in two games, it might be lucky to have even the one.

"We definitely have to up our game,'' Cooper said.

It was definitely lucky it even got to overtime on Monday.

The game started off as a hot mess. Either hung over from its stunning Game 1 victory, a game mostly won without the services of Bishop, or down in the dumps from all the players lined up in the medical room, the Lightning almost buried itself in the first period.

Kid goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had to make a brilliant save less than 10 seconds into the game. Even still, the Penguins scored twice in the first 10 minutes.

"They had more jump than us in the first period,'' Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin said. "Everybody saw that.''

Two-zip. Felt like 5-zip. In fact, it probably should have been 5-0 after the first period.

Know what it was? 2-2.

The Lightning is like a roach. Stomp on it. Squish it. Stomp on it some more. And it just keeps crawling.

Despite being thoroughly outplayed for the opening 20 minutes, a couple of sensational individual plays kept the Lightning alive.

First, Stralman, who wasn't for sure even in the lineup until earlier in the day, scored his first postseason goal off a nifty and patient pass from Jonathan Marchessault, who might have been in the lineup only because Callahan was out.

Then Drouin, the guy who isn't even supposed to be here after quitting the organization earlier this season, snapped off a slick wrist shot late in the first to tie the score at 2-2.

See a theme here?

Stralman: back from injury. Marchessault: up from the minors. Drouin: back from the dead.

And, oh yeah, Vasilevskiy.

The guy is supposed to be wearing a ball cap on the bench. Instead, he was building a brick wall in front of the goal, only playing because of the injury to Bishop.

After allowing the two early goals, he was unbeatable. In the third period, Pittsburgh came in waves and had what seemed like a million golden chances.

He robbed Crosby. Then Chris Kunitz. Then Kunitz again. Then Carl Hagelin. He made a stick save — with teammate Brian Boyle's stick — while his own was behind the net.

The Penguins were the better team, but the Lightning kept hanging around and hanging around because of Vasilevskiy.

"He's the reason we even got to overtime,'' Cooper said.

The Lightning nearly won in regulation. Alex Killorn hit the crossbar. Stralman just missed on a connecting pass that would've been his second goal of the game.

On to overtime it went. The Lightning a goal away from taking a 2-0 lead in the series, a goal away from overcoming another loss of a star, a goal away from winning a game it probably didn't deserve to win. And ultimately it didn't. The team that deserved to win Game 2 did.

Tampa Bay needs to be much better in Game 3. Maybe, if it's lucky, no one else will get hurt between now and then.

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