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Lightning look to close out Penguins and advance to Finals

For the Lightning, it’s about Game Six.

For the Lightning, it’s always been about Game Six.

Throughout the history of the franchise, a lot of series seem to wind up at Game Six, which has been the home to triumphs and heartache for the Lightning. Game Sixes have been about overtime, and about Marty St. Louis, and about Ben Bishop.

And now, here we go again. The Tampa Bay Lightning has a chance to advance to their second straight Stanley Cup Finals if they can beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Overall, the Lighting is 6-5 in Game Sixes in the playoffs.

The Bolts lost their first-ever playoff series in Game Six, losing a 6-1 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1995. They won their first series, beating Washington 2-1 in triple overtime on a goal by Martin St. Louis.

In their Stanley Cup year, they were forced to a seventh game by Philadelphia in an overtime loss in Game Six, only to win in Game Seven. The next series, they won their most crucial game of the Stanley Cup Finals, beating Calgary 3-2 on a goal by St. Louis. Earlier in that game, the Flames swore they scored the winning goal, but there were no replays to show the puck over the line.

In 2007, they lost in Game Six to New Jersey, 3-2.

In 2011, they beat Pittsburgh 4-2 and forced a seventh game, which they won. They lost a 1-0 game to Boston in Game Six.

Last year, the Bolts beat Detroit to force Game Seven (a win), closed out Montreal, lost to the Rangers (but won Game Seven) and were closed out by Chicago.

And now this.

Bolts’ coach Jon Cooper says his team relaxed a year ago against the Rangers, who won Game Six easily to force the seventh game.

“If there’s one thing we have to have learned from last year is what happened in Game 6 in the Rangers series,” Cooper said. “You can’t sit here and dictate or guarantee what the result’s going to be, but our mindset going into the game has got to be a heck of a lot different, and our group is well aware of that.

“I look back at last year, and we beat Detroit in Game 6, and then we came back, and a little bit on our heels in Game 7, and we were fortunate to pull it out. As we got a little bit more confidence in the series and we got to play the Rangers, I think we won such a big game in Game 5, I think the natural inclination was, oh, we’re going home. We’re going to close this out, especially the way we won Game 5, and they blew us out.”

Bolts are within one game of Stanley Cup Finals after beating Pittsburgh

The Tampa Bay Lightning has moved within one stride of their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

The Lighting scored 53 seconds into overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3, and to take a 3-2 lead in the best of seven series. Tyler Johnson got credit for the goal when Jason Garrison’s shot caromed off of his back.

“It’s a lot of fun to be their coach,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “I’m not saying they don’t give you ulcers, but there is a quiet calm about that group. When they were down 2-0, it wasn’t panic. Nothing was going on but ‘let’s get the next one.’ We’ve just been in this situation too many times.”

Tampa Bay came back twice in the game after trailing 2-0 and 3-2 for the win. They also trailed 2-1 in games, and were badly being outplayed before finding a way to win despite the absence of goaltender Ben Bishop and forward Steven Stamkos.

The Penguins went ahead 1-0 when Brian Dumoulin scored with less than one second to go in the first period. They made it 2-0 when Patric Hornqvist scored 90 seconds into the second period. But Tampa Bay charged back, getting goals from Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov within 70 seconds.

Again, Pittsburgh scored late in the period on a goal by Chris Kunitz.

With 3:50 to play, Ryan Callahan hit a post, and the puck skirted just outside the goalmouth. But 34 seconds later, Kucherov scored his second goal on a wrap-around to score.

Kucherov leads the NHL in post-season scoring

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the overtime was over quickly. The Lightning has now played four overtime games, winning three, and all of them have been over in a hurry. They beat the Islanders in 2:48 and 1:34. The Penguins won earlier in the series 40 seconds into overtime. Now the Lightning have won in less than a minute.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 30 shots to get his second straight win.

The Lightning can close out the series Tuesday night at home. If they do not, game seven will be in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Could the Triplets save the Lightning against the Penguins?

The Tampa Bay Lightning hope they can be saved by the rebirth of the Triplets.

The Triplets’ line dazzled the NHL a year ago, as Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat went through the league in a blur. This year, however, the group has been largely split up because of the team’s scoring woes. Alex Killorn has replaced Palat much of the time, who has played with Steven Stamkos and now Jonathan Drouin.

In Wednesday night’s 4-2 defeat by the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, the line scored both of the Bolts’ goals late as Johnson and Palat found the in one of those too-little, too-late occurenes.

“Same thing as prompted it for two series prior to that,” Coach Jon Cooper said. “I think with a lot of coaches, what happens are adjustments and different things that happen in a game. We’d gone two periods without scoring. We weren’t getting a ton in there. We put those guys back together, and they gave us a little bit of a boost.

“So you’re just looking for different things that work and guys that have a little bit of chemistry together. Fortunately, they do, as well as — you know, they play with other guys as well. But you just can’t — you’ve got to look after the rest of your team as well, and we’re trying not only to get — you think, well, you get Kuch and Johnny going, you know, Palat helped spark that, and you’re just trying to help — you’re just trying to find ways. Because it’s worked with those guys in the past, we wanted to go back to it. I’ve done it a ton during the beginning.

“Something I would consider? Of course I would consider it.’

The Lightning, down 2-1, has been dramatically outshot in all three games.

Cooper said he was not looking for goaltender Ben Bishop to return to play. Stamkos said his situation, too, was unchanged.

Still, Cooper said he believes the Lightning can play with Pittburgh.

“I think being down in the series is being down in a series,” Cooper said. “It really doesn’t matter how, I guess, you get there. The one thing I looked at and said, okay, we’ve won one of these three games. We did take three away from them in the regular season. So it’s not something we’re sitting here saying, oh, we can’t beat this team. We couldn’t beat them in the last two games, and that’s the way we’re looking at it.”

Game time is Friday night at Amalie Arena at 8 p.m.

Tampa Bay Lightning battered by Pittsburgh’s potent attack

Here comes another one. And another.

Close your eyes, and the pucks are still flying. From here. From there. From everywhere.

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost again in the finals of the Eastern Conference championship Wednesday, as the high-powered Penguins took back home ice advantage and battered the Bolts for the second striaght night in a 4-2 victory.

This time, Pittsburgh got off a staggering 48 shots. They had 41 in their victory Monday night, and they have 124 in the three-game series.

The Lightning now trail 2-1 to Pittsburgh, which can take a firm hold on their series with a win Friday night.

“It’s pretty much do-or-die,” said Tyler Johnson, who scored one of the Lightning’s goals. “It always is in the playoffs, but we don’t want to be down 3-1 going back to Pittsburgh.”

The Lightning spent much of the post-game talking confidently about how they still had not put their best foot forward. But they also said that before Wednesday’s game.

“You can’t win too many when you give up that many (shots),” Johnson said. “Vasi was outstanding. He gave us every chance to win. You honestly feel bad for him becaue he played so well.’

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper managed to sound as confident as possible.

“The message would have been a lot different if this was the best of three, but it’s the best of seven,” Cooper said. “We’ve seen every different way. We’ve been up 2-1 and down 2-1. You have to have a short memory. So we’ll turn the page. The sun is coming up … I think.”

Despite the loss, the Bolts were tied almost to the second intermission when Carl Hagelin scored with 10 seconds to play. Pittsburgh scored three times in the third to take a 4-1 lead.

“You have to give them credit,” Johnson said. “They play hard, they use each other very well. I thought we had a great first period. We were all over them, but that second period we had a little bit of a let down and that just can’t happen.”

Ondrej Palat also scored for Tampa Bay.

The Lightning does have hope that Ben Bishop, of the league’s finest goalies, will be ready to play on Friday night.

Lightning thinks it can play better against Pittsburgh in playoffs

The Tampa Bay Lightning are 9-3 in the playoffs.

They have discovered a beast in Nikita Kucherov. They have found a star of tomorrow in Jonathan Drouin. They have discovered defensive stability in Victor Hedman.

And for the next trick of the Lightning?

They want to be better.

The Lightning were disappointed with its performance in a 3-2 overtime loss Monday night to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite not losing until the extra frame, the Bolts were outshot 41-21 and spent most of the third period searching.

“We’ve got to play better to win this series; there’s no doubt,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I don’t think — we haven’t put our best foot forward. I think — you know, now that we’ve played them two times, we know a little bit more what to expect, but I know we’ve got more in the tank than what we’ve showed.”

Cooper said the team’s problems included puck possession.

“It’s a concern, there’s no question,” Cooper said. “I think we’ve put ourselves in positions to have the puck more, but we’re not being very smart about how we’re playing. We’re not playing as a group of five on the ice. We’re kind of — we’re in all like different segments, playing in different zones, changing when we shouldn’t, and when you’re not in unison, you’re not going to have the puck a whole lot of time. So definitely something we have to improve on.

“By no means am I sitting here saying, oh, gosh, we’re a way better team. Not at all. They have a lot to do with it as well. You don’t get to the conference final by fluke, I don’t believe. They’ve got a really good team, and there’s a reason they, I guess, have the best record since February, whatever it is, and they’re playing well.”

The Bolts have their next two games in Tampa, where they expect to play better.

“I like the fact that we don’t have a couple of days to sit here and digest what happened,” Cooper said. “It’s a loss. We lost the game. I don’t think anybody’s going to sit here and say, well, Tampa won Game 1. We were just going to sweep our way through the series. That wasn’t going to happen.

“We expect this is going to be a long, tough series. I don’t think we’re really happy with the way we played, although that game went to overtime. We could have handled ourselves in some situations a little bit better. But to get back on right away is probably a bonus for us.”

The teams play Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Amalie Arena.

Lightning loses a chance to take hold of NHL Playoff series

Perhaps the Tampa Bay Lightning are still in good shape in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals.

After all, they split their two games in Pittsburgh, and the next two games will be in Tampa Bay. After all, they got a good performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had 38 saves.

But, man, would this one have been sweet.

The Lightning lost a 3-2 overtime game to the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday night. Playing without Ben Bishop, without Ryan Callahan and, once again, without Steven Stamkos, the Lighting rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game before losing.

Pittsburgh outshot the Lightning 41-21 in the game, but had to extra time before Sidney Crosby scored 40 seconds in.

It is an easy strategy for the team on the road to talk about winning one of the two games. However, Jon Cooper said: “we came here to win two.”

“We may not have been the better team tonight,” Cooper said, “but we were one shot away. We’ve got to up our game.”

Cooper said the Lightning had too many “one and done” shots in the third period.

Tampa Bay fell behind 2-0 in the first 10 minutes of the game on goals by Matt Cullen and Brad Kessell. The Lightning pulled even with goals by Anton Stralman – who returned to play for the Bolts – and Jonathan Drouin.

Wednesday night’s game begins at 8 p.m.

Resilient Lightning find a way to beat Pittsburgh without Ben Bishop

By now, would you really expect another injury, even to an important player, to slow them down?

The resilient Tampa Bay Lightning, already without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, lost goaltender Ben Bishop with 7:35 left in the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bishop was taken from the ice in a stretcher. Early X-rays showed there was no structural damage.

“I think a lot of that comes from last year and the confidence we have in this group coming in,” said forward Ryan Callahan. “We’ve that mentality it’s the next guy up. We have a deep team, and that’s been a big key for us.”

The Lightning, a slight underdog in the series because of the powerful Pittsburgh offense, scored one goal in the first period on a nice move by Alex Killorn. In the second period, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin also scored.

Patrick Hornqvist scored for Pittsburgh.

Andrei Vasilevskiy came in for the Bolts and stopped 25 of 26 shots to get the 3-1 win.

“We lead the league in penalties,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s something we have to correct.”

Cooper was optimistic that X-rays showed no serious damage to Bishop’s knee. He pointed to the experience of Vasilevskiy, who is only 21 years old.

“I know it was a year ago, but he’s already played in a Stanley Cup Final,” Cooper said. “There are all kind of cliches in this game about working hard, but in his case, it’s true. He’s a rock.”

The Lightning and Penguins play again on Sunday, then turn to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. Tampa Bay is 9-2 in these playoffs.

Lightning learns schedule, but will be underdogs vs. Pittsburgh

The Tampa Bay Lightning have their times and dates.

Now, they just need their results against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Lightning open in Pittsburgh Friday and Monday with both games at 8 p.m. The Bolts came home on Wednesday and Friday. Game Five would be on Sunday. The Lightning would be the host of Game Six on Sunday, May 22. Game Seven would be Tuesday, May 24.

Every game starts at 8 p.m.

The Bolts beat Pittsburgh in all three games the teams played this year. But the Penguins finished higher in the standings and hold a home-ice advantage.

The matchups.

Defense: If the Lightning can get Anton Stralman back, and he doesn’t have any rust, this should be an advantage for Tampa Bay. But Pittsburgh isn’t bad. The Penguins allowed only two fewer goals than the Lightning all season.

Edge: Lightning.

Offense: Not many teams can match the firepower the Penguins have with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh is the top team in the playoffs. The Penguins scored 245 goals this season, third in the league in scoring.

Edge: Pittsburgh.

Goaltender: The Lightning have to hope Ben Bishop can slow down the Penguins’ offense. Bishop won 35 games in the regular season and eight more in the playoffs. The Penguins have turned things over to  Matt Murray (seven playoff wins), who has starred.

Edge: Lightning.

Special teams: Pittsburgh has an excellent power play in the playoffs. Tampa Bay has the best penalty kill.

Edge: Even.

Coaching: Jon Cooper’s team was second in the league last year, and will be at least tied for third this season. That gives him an edge over Mike Johnston.

Edge: Tampa Bay.

The problem with a matchup box, however, is that all edges are not created equal. Pittsburgh’s edge on offense is more distinct than Tampa Bay’s on defense. The Penguins are deeper, more talented.

Lightning to face Penguins in Eastern Conference Final series

The Tampa Bay Lightning got their dance partner Tuesday night.

The Lightning will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. Pittsburgh closed out the Washington Capitals in Game Six with a 4-3 overtime win.

To a lot of people, the Penguins are probably the favorites in the series. They have home ice after totalling 104 points. The Lightning had 97.

But Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh in all three of their meetings this year. The Bolts won 4-0, 6-1 and 5-2.

In the first game, Anton Stralman and Steve Stamkos, both out injured, scored the Lightning’s first two goals. In fact, Stralman scored in all three of the Lightning victories.

In the third game, Vlad Namestnikov had a hat trick. Ben Bishop was 2-0, allowing five goals on 69 shots.

The league has yet to announce which nights the games will be played.

Could Steven Stamkos, Anton Stralman return for Lightning?

Do the Tampa Bay Lightning have reenforcements coming?

As good as the Bolts have been, dismissing two teams in 10 games, they will face their biggest challenge against either Washington or Pittsburgh, both of whom were better in the regular season than they were.

But what if the Bolts get Steven Stamkos back?

And what if they get Anton Stralman back?

For Tampa Bay, there was no need to rush either player against the Islanders. Not when they won four straight. But both Stamkos and Stralman have been seen hanging around the team’s locker room. A return date for either might not be that far off.

The Lightning could use both. Stamkos was once again the Lightning’s leading scorer with 36 goals. Stralman was a steady defensive player. And the loss of both has provided extra minutes for others to have to fill. With them both, the Lightning are deeper, more dangerous.

Who knows? It could be enough to get the Bolts past another round and into their second straight finals.

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