Remember this one because the history books will not do it justice.
Remember this one because, more than any other, it explains who this team is.
Remember this one because someone needs to be around to tell the story of how the Lightning fell behind in the first two minutes, played without three of their top four scorers, took penalty after penalty, and didn’t hold the lead until there were nine seconds remaining.
Yes, the Lightning beat the Islanders 2-1 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final Wednesday night but, more than that, they showed that, on their best nights, they sometimes have as much heart as skill.
So applaud Nikita Kucherov for scoring the winner, but don’t forget goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who carried the Lightning on his shoulders for much of the evening. And give Victor Hedman a pat on the back for taking away New York’s momentum with a tying goal, but don’t ignore the penalty killers who held the Islanders scoreless for nearly 11 shorthanded minutes.
And say a small prayer for Brayden Point after he went hard into the boards, but remember to appreciate the nine forwards who had to outlast 12 forwards in the Islanders lineup.
“In the end, it was gutty,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s what that effort was. It was just gutty.”
And is there a greater compliment for a hockey team?
“Never really thought about it that way. And in the moment of asking me that, I don’t know if there is. Gutty might be that slang word for it, but it consumes character, resiliency, perseverance, adversity. That’s really what it was. Yeah, I’m just unbelievably proud of the guys.”
You see, everyone knows this team has stars. Kucherov is the league’s reigning MVP. Hedman won the Norris Trophy for the league’s top defenseman. Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy winner.
But we sometimes forget about Yanni Gourde and Antony Cirelli flying down the ice like their hair is ablaze. We forget about Luke Schenn trading punches in defense of a smaller teammate. We forget that Erik Cernak or Ryan McDonagh might be big shots on some other roster, but they quietly play their roles on Tampa Bay’s blue line.
“That’s why you play the game. All that hard work, preparation from the coaching staff on down to every player,” said McDonagh, who was responsible for the cross-ice pass that set up Kucherov’s winning goal. “We’re all working toward the same goal, the ultimate goal. A dramatic finish like that, it’s a fun moment to be a part of.”
Even if you brush off all the other details, remember this one:
No Steven Stamkos. No Brayden Point. No Alex Killorn.
And, as it turns out, no giving up.
Stamkos has been gone the entire postseason, Killorn was ejected early in the game for a cheap hit and Point was essentially shut down after crashing into the boards late in the first period.
That’s your second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers this season. We all love Ringo Starr, but the Beatles don’t change the world without the other three guys.
“We were kind of fighting the circumstances of the game, whether it was a lot of (penalty) kills, not many guys on the bench,” forward Blake Coleman said. “Those are the games that feel the best.”
And if you’ve been waiting for the night when you could say Vasilevskiy stole a game, this was it. He gave them a chance at a point in the first period when they really didn’t deserve it.
He made a glove save, he blocked a shot with his left leg, he smothered a puck directly in front of the net, he took a shot off his mask. And all of that was just during the five-minute power play that Killorn’s penalty caused.
And now the Lightning have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, although that’s not as comfortable as it sounds. Point’s injury is a huge concern, and the Islanders have now shown their own resilience after a Game 1 blowout.
“There’s no quit in our group,” McDonagh said. “We’ve got a lot of gutsy players.”
Yes, they do. In retrospect, this was probably their best win. More impressive than the blowouts, more important than the five-overtime game in the first round.
So remember this game.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.