TAMPA — Blake Coleman’s stick is 62 inches long, and he needed every last one to make what might have been the biggest play of the Lightning’s playoffs.
In order to win the greatest trophy in sports, it sometimes takes jaw-dropping moments, and Coleman provided a great one in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night at Amalie Arena.
Coleman’s winning goal with 1.1 seconds left in the second period — his first goal since the Lightning’s first playoff game — and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s stellar 42-save performance were the difference in a 3-1 win that was far from the Lightning’s best team effort.
But it gave them a 2-0 lead in the series.
“ll be honest,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “There were some remarkable individual performances tonight ... but it definitely was an unremarkable team game we had going on.”
Near the end of a second period that Montreal dominated, and with the score tied at 1, Tampa Bay had a rare rush — it had just 13 shots over the first two periods — with forward Barclay Goodrow taking the puck in the neutral zone and heading north as the final seconds ticked down.
He fed Coleman, who was blanketed by Canadiens center Phillip Danault, leading him just a bit too much as Coleman closed in on the left post of the goal.
“I knew time was tight,” Goodrow said. “I could hear our bench yelling, ‘Shoot.’ It was a big goal for us and something we desperately needed at that time.”
Coleman then went full extension, diving forward — his reach was a little farther than Danault’s — flicking the puck off his blade and past Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.
“I just tried to do everything I could to give (Goodrow) an option and it was an incredible area pass from him and, fortunately, we beat the clock.”
Vasilevskiy set the tone early, turning away Nick Suzuki’s backhanded breakaway shot with a perfectly timed poke check. He stopped 28 of 29 shot attempts before Coleman’s goal gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh called Vasilevskiy “the backbone of this team.”
“We certainly wanted to make it easier of a night for him,” McDonagh said. “But man, he’s an absolute warrior and competitor and was probably the biggest piece of our win here tonight.”
Vasilevskiy’s only blemish was Suzuki’s score with 9:24 left in the second off a wobbly puck that seemed to fool Vasilevskiy by its lack of thrust.
One day after Vasilevskiy was snubbed of his second Vezina Trophy — he lost to winner Marc-Andre Fleury by nine voting points — his 42 saves were his second-most in regulation in 78 career postseason games.
The Canadiens certainly rebounded well after dropping the series opener, totaling 67 shot attempts on the night.
Following a scoreless first period, Anthony Cirelli gave the Lightning the lead with a seeing-eye wrister from just inside the blue line above the right circle that went through two Canadiens players and two Lightning players before beating Price stickside.
With 4:18 left in the third, Ondrej Palat took advantage of a sloppy Montreal play in the Canadiens’ zone, picking off a bad pass and flicking the puck off Price and into the net to put the Lightning up 3-1.
Coleman’s diving goal was a carbon copy of one he scored in Game 2 of last year’s second-round playoff series against the Bruins.
“Literally in my head I’m like, ‘Did he just do that again?’” Cooper said. “A little bit different scenarios, but it was remarkably similar. Just the timing was epic.”
The score, which electrified the Lightning’s first full-capacity home crowd in more than two years (announced attendance was 17,166), tilted the ice for Tampa Bay.
In the league semifinal series, Coleman committed a turnover in the Lightning’s end that led to the winning goal in a Game 6 overtime loss to the Islanders.
Since then, Coleman played well in the Lightning’s Game 7 win over New York and in Monday’s Game 1 of the final.
“I told Coleman after (Game 6), ‘Don’t you dare lose a night of sleep over your turnover that he felt like cost us that game.’” Cooper said. “I was like, ‘You are one of the straws that stir the drink for this team.’ And all he’s done is had a remarkable Game 7 and two remarkable games here.
“He’s a winner. Turns the page and moves on and delivers, and he did that (Wednesday).”
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