Blood stained the front of Erik Cernak’s jersey. Stitches closed a cut over Corey Perry’s right eye. A parade of players — Mikhail Sergachev, Cernak, Steven Stamkos, Brandon Hagel — wore a path from the tunnel to the locker room and back.
The Lightning were bloodied, bruised and abraded during Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against the Panthers Thursday in Sunrise. But it was Florida that was hurting most after Tampa Bay’s 2-1 victory gave it a 2-0 lead as the best-of-seven series moves to Tampa.
Think this team is committed to its pursuit of a third straight Stanley Cup championship?
The Lightning sacrificed their bodies by throwing themselves in front of shots, blocking 24, and taking hits to make plays. But the Panthers did their part, too. Believing they didn’t play with enough jam in Tuesday’s opener, Florida started Game 2 with its fourth line of Patric Hornqvist, Ryan Lomberg and Eetu Luostarinen on the ice.
They set a physical tone from the start, as Hornqvist drove Ondrej Palat into the boards and MacKenzie Weegar smacked Perry, two of the Panthers’ 24 hits in the first period, nearly as many as they had (30) in all of Game 1. They didn’t relent, delivering 52 of the combined 87 in the game.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, the hits didn’t have the desired effect, as the Lightning kept their cool, weathered the punishment, stayed patient and took advantage of Florida’s occasional recklessness to mount odd-man rushes.
The Lightning bent but didn’t break, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopping 35 of 36 shots, the penalty kill shutting out the Panthers’ power play on all four man-advantage opportunities, and Tampa Bay grinding things out until Ross Colton’s winning goal with less than four seconds remaining.
Grade: W, for warriors
Here is how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in Game 2:
What a winner
Though they’re seldom on the ice together, it was no coincidence that Colton and Nikita Kucherov combined on the winning goal.
After Palat kept the puck in at the offensive blue line and rimmed it around the boards to Kucherov, Tampa Bay’s most creative playmaker drew two Florida defenders below the goal line before making a blind, backhand pass to Colton in front.
Colton, who seems to have a knack for getting into scoring position and has a great release, found a soft spot below the left circle when Gustav Forsling and Weegar pursued Kucherov behind the net before scoring up top as goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky dropped to the ice.
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They weren’t the best of omens.
Perry had to get stitched up during warmups after his own shot ricocheted off the crossbar and hit him above the eye, something he said he has never seen in 17 NHL seasons.
Then, his ritualistic rink-length shot toward the empty Panthers net as players left the ice hit a skate and deflected harmlessly toward the sideboards.
But neither seemed to bother the superstitious Perry, who opened scoring with a power-play goal just over 12 minutes into the game.
Starting at the right point, Perry skated along the boards to the corner, then arced into the slot between the circles to make himself available. He raised his stick as Stamkos skated into the left circle and then presented just enough of his blade for Stamkos to hit it with his heavy shot.
The puck deflected up over Bobrovsky’s glove for Perry’s fourth goal of the playoffs and third on the power play.
Taking a toll
Jon Cooper seemed to suggest earlier this week that the pain of being hit by a puck was nothing compared to what a player would feel upon returning to the bench if he passed up an opportunity to throw himself in front of a shot.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like heck.
Sergachev was hit in the cheek by a Sam Bennett shot. A Gustav Forsling attempt rode up Cernak’s stick, catching him in the chin. Both went to the locker room in the first period but returned for the second.
Stamkos went to the locker room three separate times. Hagel had to be helped down the tunnel after a shot went off the side of his skate early in the third. Both returned to the game.
Pucks that hit bodies don’t make it to the net, and the Lightning have allowed a total of just three goals over their past three games.
It hurts to win. But it hurts even more to lose.
Setting an example
It starts with the captain.
Defensemen Cernak and Ryan McDonagh are known for blocking shots. But when you get to the postseason, everybody is expected to sacrifice their bodies. Thursday, it was Stamkos leading the way.
He was in obvious pain after blocking an Aaron Ekblad blast from the right circle in the second period but completed his shift before skating to the bench. He went to the locker room, then returned just minutes later.
He went back to the locker room after colliding with Ekblad while racing for a puck in the third period. No sooner did he return than he had to go back a third time after taking a Weegar shot off the hand.
Again, he returned.
After following his lead throughout the game, Stamkos’ teammates picked him up at the end, killing the penalty after Stamkos was called for tripping Sam Reinhart with 3:23 remaining.
That’s what you call buy-in.
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