1. Lightning

Lightning forecast: Stormy, with likelihood of nail-biting (w/video)

Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn, left, awaits Ryan Callahan after his blast past Chicago’s Corey Crawford gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead Monday in Game 3 of the Cup final.
Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn, left, awaits Ryan Callahan after his blast past Chicago’s Corey Crawford gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead Monday in Game 3 of the Cup final.
Published Jun. 9, 2015


Three hours before the start of Monday night's Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final and wicked weather sideswiped the greater Chicago area.

Heavy rains, booming thunder and strong winds raced across downtown for an ominous hour.

Turns out, that was the calm before the storm, which ultimately was the pivotal showdown between the Lightning and Blackhawks.

Call it a severe Lightning storm: Tampa Bay beat the Blackhawks 3-2 to take a two games to one lead in the best-of-seven series.

Halfway home. The Lightning needs two more victories for the second championship in franchise history.

But about this Game 3. What a bizarre game.

Entertaining, for sure. Certainly dramatic. Strange? More than fiction.

This is the type of game that makes the NHL proud. Great theater. Nutty drama. Flashy offense. Good old-fashioned rough stuff. You know, hockey the way it is meant to be played.

Even if you don't consider yourself a big-time hockey fan, you would have found yourself glued to the odd particulars of Monday's surreal game.

Back and forth it went. Momentum shifted. Emotions played on a see-saw.

It was completely enthralling and maddening all at the same time because, bottom line, you never know what you're going to get with the Lightning. And that's what makes this all so fun.

And weird.

The weirdness started way back in Saturday's Game 2 when Lightning goalie Ben Bishop left the game in the third period, came back and left again as a 20-year-old rookie finished off the Lightning win.

In the 48 hours after Bishop's game of musical chairs, rumors swirled that Bishop suffered a variety of ailments, from an injured knee to dehydration to a severe case of, well trust me, you don't want to know anything more than he needed to be in constant close proximity to a toilet.

When Bishop appeared before the media Monday morning, he refused to give any details or to even confirm if he was actually going to play. The best thing he said was that he knew he sounded just like football player Marshawn Lynch, who is known for not talking to the media.

Well, Bishop played after all Monday and, like the game itself, it was hard to really figure out how he did. Good? Yeah. Shaky? That, too. Effective? Sure, he won.

Even after the game, he was tougher to crack than a frozen brick. Lots of "I don't know" and "I can't say" answers.

At times, he looked like the MVP goalie he has been all season for Tampa Bay. Other times, he looked like he was auditioning for one of the "I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up" commercials.

There's still no telling whether he is hurt or sick or has gas or is out of gas. All you know is you keep looking to the bench to see if backup Andrei Vasilevskiy is climbing over the boards and then, in an instant, you feel silly for thinking that when Bishop makes another save.

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"It's going to take a lot to not play in a Stanley Cup final game," said Bishop, who finished with 36 saves.

Meantime, the Lightning continues to show remarkable resiliency and maturity for a team that supposedly is too young, too inexperienced, way too green to win a Stanley Cup against such savvy veterans as the Blackhawks.

A team with lesser intestinal fortitude might have been rattled by a sold-out United Center crowd that rocked the foundation before the game even started. Time and time again Monday, as it has all postseason, the Lightning turned in a performance that showed is has much guts as it does skill.

"The confidence we have in each other, it's big," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.

With the United Center still echoing from a rousing rendition of the national anthem, veteran Ryan Callahan gave the Lightning a 1-0 just five minutes into the game. Despite being badly outplayed for the first period, somehow the Lightning went to the intermission tied at 1.

The game stayed that way even though more bad things continued to pile up on Tampa Bay. Bishop continued to look like he needed a walker. The power play blew a lengthy five-on-three man-advantage.

But the Lightning never stopped. Even when the Blackhawks scored a go-ahead goal early in the third period that practically blew the roof off the place, Tampa Bay responded before the crowd could sit back down. Just 13 seconds after Chicago had taken the 2-1 lead, Ondrei Palat tied it by jamming in a rebound.

Then the Lightning got the winner from a guy who is not considered a goal-scorer. Of course that's what happened. Cedric Paquette, whose primary job is to keep the other team from scoring, pushed in a beautiful pass from Victor Hedman, who has been the best player in this series, to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead.

"He was a monster out there," Cooper said of Hedman.

Just 3 minutes and 11 seconds later, the game was over. The Lightning had won.

When it was finished, nothing was left except for a Tampa Bay lead in the series.

And a very calm and quiet city of Chicago turned silent by a strong Lightning storm.


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