Watch Alex Killorn jumpstart Lightning offense with perfect shot past Marc-Andre Fleury

Jared Clinton
Alex Killorn (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Players from the Tampa Bay Lightning would have been the first to tell you that they started Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final flat. Late in the first period they surrendered the opening goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and midway through the first frame they trailed 2-0 in Sunday’s game.

With less than seven minutes left, however, the Lightning found their first goal of the contest, and it came on an absolutely gorgeous shot by winger Alex Killorn on what appeared to be a nothing play.

Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr won a board battle on the half wall of the Penguins’ zone and, with seemingly no offensive options, he simply played it in behind the Pittsburgh goal. His pass ricocheted off the back wall and around the left wing boards onto the tape of Killorn, who picked up the puck, took a look towards the goal and fired a seeing-eye shot that found the mere inches of daylight over the shoulder of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. It might be the most perfect shot of the post-season: Read more

Lightning take Game 5 in overtime and Penguins have big decision to make going forward

Jared Clinton
The Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate their overtime-winning goal (Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

After Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made one of the biggest decisions of the post-season in starting Marc-Andre Fleury over Matt Murray for Game 5, the Pittsburgh bench boss will have yet another major choice to make going forward. Because after Fleury allowed four goals on 25 shots, including an early overtime-winner to Tyler Johnson, the Penguins have questions once again in goal.

It wasn’t that Fleury was entirely poor, though. Through the first 40 minutes of the contest, Fleury stopped all but two of the 13 shots he faced, and it’s not as if the first two goals he allowed could be blamed on him. First, it was Alex Killorn who found the sliver of daylight over Fleury’s shoulder. Then it was Nikita Kucherov scoring on a no-doubter little more than a minute later.

However, the rebound that led to Kucherov’s second goal of the game on a wraparound with 3:16 left in the third period wasn’t pretty. Johnson threw a weak backhand on goal with next to no net-front pressure, and though Fleury blocked it away, the puck landed right on Kucherov’s stick to set up the wraparound tying goal.

And even if it’s the poor rebound control that led to Kucherov’s tying goal, it’ll be game-winning goal that that leads Sullivan to question who starts Game 6. A simple shot from the left wing boards from Jason Garrison deflected off the back of Johnson for the game-winning tally, and though the puck changed direction in a big way, Fleury probably should have turned the shot aside. Instead, the Lightning took home a 4-3 overtime victory: Read more

Lightning get third-period scare, but hang on for huge Game 4 victory

Jared Clinton
Tyler Johnson (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Lightning needed their best game of the Eastern Conference final in Game 4, because through three games the series looked as though it belonged to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even in Game 1, a game the Penguins lost, Pittsburgh looked like the better team but simply weren’t able to solve Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy in. And though Game 4 was undoubtedly the best game Tampa Bay has played in the series, the 4-3 victory didn’t come without a scare.

That said, out of the gate, it seemed like it would be all Lightning, all the time. On the very first shift of the game, only 27 seconds into Friday’s contest, Victor Hedman let go a shot from the Pittsburgh blueline that was tipped in front by Lightning winger Ryan Callahan and past Penguins netminder Matt Murray. Callahan’s second goal of the post-season, and the Lightning’s fast-paced start, was a sign of what much of the first 40 minutes would hold.

Through two periods of play, the Lightning mustered 30 shots on goal — the most they’ve had in the series — and they looked nearly unstoppable on the rush. In what was the best two frames of hockey the Lightning have played not just in the conference final, but throughout the playoffs, Tampa Bay showcased their ability to counter-attack, showed the lethal puck-moving ability that can make their power play so dangerous and made the Penguins pay for even the slightest mistake. Callahan’s goal was followed by markers by Andrej Sustr, Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Johnson, who was lucky to have been in the lineup following a puck to the face during warmup. Read more

Lightning netminder Ben Bishop ‘getting closer,’ but won’t play in crucial Game 4

Jared Clinton
Ben Bishop (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he was optimistic about the chances of starting netminder Ben Bishop returning during the Eastern Conference final, and even though Bishop has been taking part in practices and facing shots, it won’t be Game 4 that the 6-foot-7 netminder gets back between the pipes.

Bishop skated again Friday ahead of the fourth game of the conference final, but it was 21-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy who was first off the ice at the morning skate and who will get the call in goal for the Lightning as they seek to tie up the series. Bishop remained practicing after Vasilevskiy left the ice and again faced shots, but that doesn’t mean the veteran goaltender’s return is imminent.

“Today was better than yesterday,” Bishop, who has been out since falling injured in Game 1, said. “We’re making progress here. We’re getting closer.”

Getting closer, though, doesn’t ensure Bishop will be back for Game 5, and in a series that could be 3-1 for the Penguins heading back to Pittbsurgh, that could mean time is running out for both Bishop and the Lightning to turn this series around. Read more

Are the Lightning and Blues toast already? Here’s why they should worry

Andrei Vasilevskiy.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Unstoppable force meets immovable object. Wasn’t that supposed to be the theme for both conference final matchups in these playoffs?

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins looked dead even on paper in the East. The Bolts lost just twice in their first two rounds, they boasted the best goalie left in the playoffs in Ben Bishop, Jonathan Drouin was breaking out as a playmaker, and Nikita Kucherov’s nine goals in 10 games eased the sting of losing Steven Stamkos to a blood clot. The Penguins, meanwhile, overwhelmed the first-place Washington Capitals with their speed, topping them in Round 2, and Sidney Crosby and Co. suddenly looked like serious Stanley Cup contenders. Two blindingly quick offensive squads, both of which had received great goaltending, going head to head. Seven games seemed destined.

On the West side of the bracket: the exorcist teams, the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues, both of which cast out their choker demons in Round 1 by collectively knocking off the only teams to win the Stanley Cup since 2011, the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks and Blues had seven-game wars in their divisional final matchups, both advanced, and both oozed monkey-off-the-back swagger entering the final four. Again, this series looked like a seven-gamer on paper.

And while each series only sits at 2-1, nowhere near over, they sure don’t feel close, do they?

The ice has been chiselled into a ramp-like surface in the Lightning/Penguins series, with the latter skating downhill the entire time. Pittsburgh has outshot Tampa Bay 35-20, 41-20 and 48-28 in the three games, good for a 124-68 margin. The Pens have had the shots advantage in eight of 10 periods, including 3-0 in Game 2’s overtime, with one period tied in shots and one period in which the Bolts had the edge. If you’re an analytics advocate, look away. Pittsburgh’s Corsi margins have been 70-41, 69-44 and 78-50. The series really should be 3-0, but Andrei Vasilevskiy stole Game 1 after replacing injured Bishop.

The Blues, meanwhile, won Game 1 at home but have since been shut out in back to back games, which has never happened over their 40 playoff campaigns. They seemingly have no answer for the star power of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns.

So what gives? It might seem silly to write off the Bolts and Blues so quickly, but the sentiment is out there. In the past 24 hours I’ve been asked, “Will the Lightning/Penguins series be over in a hurry?” and “Will the Blues fire ‘Hitch if they bomb out 4-1″? So let’s investigate how – and if – the trailing teams might climb back into their series.

Read more

Kessel doing with Penguins what was impossible in Toronto and Boston

Phil Kessel. (Getty Images)

Should Phil Kessel continue his personal assault on the playoffs and be named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as tournament MVP, fans in Toronto and Boston should feel nothing but happiness for him. Wasting their time and emotional energy lamenting what might have been would be an exercise in futility.

And that’s largely because it never would have been. You see what Kessel is doing in the playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins? Never would have happened in either Toronto or Boston. Fans in Boston can be thankful for what they got in return for Kessel – Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton for a while – then Jimmy Hayes and three prospects they got when they dealt the players they got for Kessel. Fans in Toronto can watch as Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington try to win a Calder Trophy for their minor league team and hope the first- and third-round picks turn into something nice.

Read more

Stamkos says there’s ‘a real possibility’ he won’t play at all in playoffs

Jared Clinton
Steven Stamkos (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the post-season, defeated the Detroit Red Wings, got past the New York Islanders and entered into the Eastern Conference final all without the services of Steven Stamkos, and the Bolts may have to get used to his absence for the rest of the post-season.

Stamkos has been out for nearly two months after he had surgery to take care of a blood clot in his arm, but the Lightning captain has been taking part in some light skates, practicing with his teammates and has looked close to returning on several occasions. But ahead of Game 4, which will be as close to a must-win as the Lightning can get without it being an elimination game, Stamkos said the likelihood of him playing Friday evening isn’t very great. In fact, he said there’s about a “95 percent chance” he’ll be out.

As if that news isn’t bad enough, though, Stamkos went one step further: he said he might not be back at all this post-season. Read more

In this track meet, Penguins winning medals and Lightning getting participation badges

Phil Kessel (Head: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images; Kessel; Body: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Just hours after Jim Rutherford was announced as a finalist for GM of the Year, the players he acquired displayed exactly why he received so much love from his colleagues around the league. And if there is anybody out there who didn’t think Rutherford’s best days were behind him when he joined the Penguins almost two years ago is either a soothsayer or a member of Rutherford’s immediate family.

But at the age of 67, Rutherford looks as though he’s just hitting his stride. And so does his highest-profile acquisition, Phil Kessel. Talk about being raised from the dead. That both Rutherford and Kessel have a legitimate chance to hold the Stanley Cup over the heads in about a month is nothing short of shocking.

Read more