TAMPA — Dating back to the beginning of last postseason, the Lightning have always had an answer. They’ve refused to lose back-to-back playoff games, entering Game 4 of their second-round series Saturday having won nine straight when coming off a loss.
They’ve done it by remaining calm and confident, by quieting the commotion, each player channeling what led to their laps hoisting Lord Stanley. But as Lightning coach Jon Cooper said following Thursday’s Game 3 loss, no matter what, the postseason can still be a “big, damn roller coaster.”
Saturday’s second period alone — a head-spinning 20 minutes that included eight goals — was one of the wildest siren-sounding rides imaginable.
“That was chaotic,” Cooper said. “It’s a damn circus out there, but definitely no refunds after that one. Take your coach’s hat off, and it was one hell of an entertaining second period.”
Facing a two-goal deficit in the period, the Lightning scored three straight goals in under five minutes, two coming on the power play, to take the lead and regain control of their best-of-seven series with a 6-4 victory.
“Probably the craziest playoff period you’re gonna get to see the rest of the way,” Steven Stamkos said of the highest-scoring postseason period since 2006.
With the victory, the Lightning took a 3-1 series lead over the Central Division champions and are now one win away from the Stanley Cup semifinals. Tuesday’s Game 5 is in Raleigh, N.C.
This Lightning team has graduated from its “Greatest Show on Ice” past after those years ended in postseason disappointment. Last year’s Stanley Cup run prioritized defense and showed winning in the playoffs is more about stopping goals than scoring them.
But when they found themselves in a feverishly paced shootout, the Lightning showed they could still play this way — and the limited-capacity sellout crowd of 13,773 at Amalie Arena loved it — and still lock down the Hurricanes with defense in the third period.
“It’s not our bread and butter, it’s not what our team preaches,” said Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, whose first postseason goal tied the score at 4 with 2:50 left in the second. “We have to be a lot better defensively than what we were, but I think it says a lot about our group and our character that we didn’t really let it faze us.”
Stamkos scored the go-ahead goal on the power play with 23 seconds left in the second, his second goal in a three-point night. Nikita Kucherov, who assisted on that goal, had two goals of his own, giving him five this postseason. After starting the game 0-for-3, the Lightning power play scored on three straight three man-advantage opportunities.
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Victor Hedman prevented a Carolina clearing attempt, sweeping his stick forward, and got the puck to Anthony Cirelli in the far corner. Cirelli passed to Kucherov coming over the right circle, and he quickly tapped a pass to Stamkos. The captain had an open shot from the left circle, beating Carolina goaltender Petr Mrazek top shelf on the near post.
After trailing 1-0 after one period, the Hurricanes took over in the first part of the second, scoring four of the next five goals over a span of 8:11 and taking a 4-2 lead on Jaccob Slavin’s shot from below the left circle.
“There’s a lot of hockey left, so you never know what’s gonna happen,” Stamkos said. “At that point, when you’re down two, you just want to make sure you get the next goal, and that’s what we did. We’ve been in multiple different situations throughout the runs that this core has been here for and we’ve seen it all, so nothing’s gonna really surprise this group.”
Kucherov’s first goal, the Lightning’s second power-play goal, provided a spark. He took the puck off the boards after Stamkos’ one-timer hit iron, then launched a rising wrister from above the right circle that filled the net.
“The bench stayed calm and we knew what to do,” said Kucherov, whose second goal 6:01 into the third provided the Lightning with a two-goal cushion. “We just had to make the switch and start playing the right way and take care of our zone first and then create some changes down there, and that’s what we did.”
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