PITTSBURGH — Now, it is a series.
Now, it is anybody's.
The Lightning salvaged its postseason Friday night. It pulled itself off the edge of a cliff, and it earned a new deal, and it whittled down a monster of a goaltender to the size of a munchkin.
It finished 5-1, and from here, you can see the St. Pete Times Forum.
This was huge, and if the Lightning plans to keep playing beyond this round, this was vital. Say what you want about odds and comebacks, but going down 0-2 to the Penguins would have been a hole the size of an empty grave.
Lose this game, and the Lightning would have had to win four out of five against a gritty Penguins team with a hot goaltender. Technically, it would still have had a chance, but it would have been the same sort of chance of a man falling out of an airplane and hoping to land in the bed of a pickup filled with mattresses.
Instead, it is going home tied 1-1 with a bit of momentum, with a dose of confidence, with home-ice advantage. As of today, it is the Penguins who have to figure out the Lightning's goaltender instead of the other way around. As of today, it is the Penguins who have to explain the devastating blow Marty St. Louis gave to them.
For the Lightning, this was the biggest postseason win since April 16, 2007, when it beat New Jersey to take a 2-1 lead in its first-round series. The Lightning promptly lost three straight games and then went on a four-year wander through the desert.
This, pretty much, is what excellence looks like. It was a night of big plays for the Lightning, a conga line of players seizing the spotlight one after another. When the Lightning is at its best, this is what it looks like.
"I've said this before, but the reason we have had success is that everyone has a big role on this team," Vinny Lecavalier said.
Do you want to know why Eric Brewer was brought to Tampa Bay in midseason? For a game such as this, that's why. For a presence such as he had against the Penguins.
Yes, part of it was the bullet he fired to the left of Marc-Andre Fleury 122 seconds into the game. That, in itself, was a huge statement. Even without that, however, Brewer was the best player on the ice for much of the game. He had two assists and two hits, and he had a takeaway. And it was his knockdown of the puck — an "errant stab" he called it — to keep it in the offensive zone that led to the Lightning's second goal.
Do you want to know why Lecavalier is still here? For the grit he has added to his game over the years. For the things he can do even though he no longer is one of the game's biggest scorers.
Lecavalier was almost sitting in Fleury's lap when he scored the second goal. After a perfect backhand pass from Simon Gagne, Lecavalier jammed the puck into the net for a two-goal lead on the Lightning's third shot of the game.
"It was a great pass," he said. "All I had to do was stick it in. He made the whole thing happen."
Do you want to know why fans around here still love St. Louis? Go back to the end of the second period, when the Penguins were attacking like the Charge of the Light Brigade. They had scored once to cut the Lightning's lead to 3-1, and they had hit a post, and they seemed to have the Lightning on its heels.
Then with 14 seconds to go in the period, St. Louis fired a shot from deep to the right of the goal, an almost impossible angle. The puck fired off the sake of Pittsburgh's Paul Martin, and just like that, the assault had been turned back.
It was a vintage St. Louis goal. It has never been the number of goals that have defined St. Louis, it has been the timing of them and the importance. On a night like this, with his teeth bonded together to keep them inside of his skull, with a sign in the stands with his face pasted over that of Mini-Me, the character from the Austin Powers movies, St. Louis put another memory on the stack. Of course he did.
"It was a huge goal," Lecavalier said. "There's a big difference in 3-1 and 4-1 at the end of the second period."
One last question: Do you want to know why Dwayne Roloson was brought in this year? For this, of course. For a night when the Lightning needed him to stand bigger than the other team's goalie, when it needed him to prove once again that this isn't about his age after all.
For the moment, Roloson, 41, measured up just fine. He showed that it wasn't just Fleury who has salvaged his team's season. He showed that it wasn't just Fleury who could make improbable saves while the oncoming traffic jostled him about.
True, Roloson had a couple of strange wanders from the net, one that led to the Penguins' goal. Still, he turned away 35 of 36 shots. On most nights, the Lightning will take its chances with those kinds of numbers.
In other words, most of the night looked like a Lightning highlight tape. This is who it is, and when everything clicks, this is what it can do.
A few more examples, and who knows how far it can go?