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Tampa Bay Lightning's scrappiness on full display in Game 6 win

TAMPA — It looks like Nate Thompson, sliding across the ice to put his ribcage in the path of a whistling puck before it could cause any damage.

It looks like Dwayne Roloson, surviving another onslaught, stopping three straight shots as quick as a popcorn popper.

It looks like Eric Brewer, digging a puck out of the corner as the Lightning's deadly penalty kill smothered yet another Penguins threat.

It looks a little like desperation. It looks a lot like heart. More and more, it looks like the team picture of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that refuses to stop skating.

These are the snapshots of a team as it fights back from the brink. They are a stubborn bunch, these Bolts, feisty and resilient. Say what you will about speed or skill, this is this team's finest quality, that ability to keep its own pulse beating in spite of the hands that have been around its throat for two games.

The Lightning did it again Monday night. It scraped and scratched and scuffled, and somehow, it found a way to keep a season alive.

All in all, it was the finest victory the Lightning has had since Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup — although another one on Wednesday would be bigger than this.

"When we were down 3-1, our goal was to get even and give ourselves a chance," said forward Marty St. Louis. "We've done that, but our job isn't over."

It is down to one of those final, breathless, loser-leaves-the-postseason sort of showdowns.

For the second straight game, the Lightning staved off elimination, coming from behind (naturally) to win 4-2. This was survival hockey, a game that might as well have been played on the edge of the cliff. In the end, the Lightning won because it would not allow any other option.

It looks like Teddy Purcell, slamming home a rebound to tie the score at 1. It looks like Dominic Moore, making a no-look pass that would have made Magic Johnson proud, finding Sean Bergenheim in front of the goal for the Lightning's second goal. It looks like Steve Downie, taking his anger out on the net this time, jamming home the team's third goal 67 seconds after the Penguins had tied the score.

This is why this team has won this town back. Because it has enough gristle to keep skating no matter what the odds have looked like. Because it keeps skating further and further away from the memories of bad owners and bad players and bad memories. Because it has come back from being down 3-1, because it came back from the odds, because it has come back from being an afterthought of a franchise.

"That's been our motto since the get-go," forward Steven Stamkos said. "It's been preached and harped upon by our coaches. Hard work beats skill. If you have both, you're a hard team to play."

In sports, there are few qualities as admirable as resiliency. Because of that, it would have been downright rude for the Lightning's season to conclude Monday night. Admit it, you really didn't care when the last three seasons ended. Those seasons were like a bad tooth; the sooner the pain ended, the better. And in 2006 and 2007, a first-round defeat seemed inevitable after underachieving seasons.

Somehow during this series, the Lightning seems to have grown up. In the two middle games at the St. Pete Times Forum, the players looked like the freshman pledge class. They couldn't quite figure how to approach these games against a veteran Penguins group.

The last two games, they have looked hardened, as if they have figured it out. They were at their best Monday, calm and in control.

Funny thing, desperation. The more a team handles, the more it starts to resemble domination.

It looks like Ryan Malone, who grew up as a rink-rat in Pittsburgh, slamming home the clinching goal.

It looks like Simon Gagne, diving headlong with his stick extended to knock away a late threat in the third quarter.

It looks like a penalty kill that will not allow the Penguins to breath. Pittsburgh has had 30 power plays, and the Lightning has turned away 29. In some ways, the Lightning has been on a penalty kill for two straight games now, and is still standing.

Who else knew that Purcell, Bergenheim, Downie and Malone were going to be the Four Horsemen? That shows how the Lightning is getting goals from every corner of its roster.

"That was the trademark of our team," coach Guy Boucher said. "The fourth liners, the third liners, the grinders, the defensemen, we always had new heroes every game. These guys, these no-names as somebody called them, certainly have a name to us."

So what happens in Game 7? The Lightning has momentum, and the Penguins have experience. The Lightning has explosiveness, and the Penguins have home ice. The Lightning has the hotter goalie, and the better special teams. The Penguins? For the first time, they're facing elimination, too. We'll see how comfortable they are on the cliff.

Home ice? You could play this one anywhere. Richmond. Marietta. Elbow Bend.

"Our job isn't done yet," Stamkos said.

Just as well. After clawing back from the brink, twice, the Lightning might as well win it.

After all, what better does it have to do?

Tampa Bay Lightning's scrappiness on full display in Game 6 win 04/25/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 8:19pm]
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