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Lightning forces Game 7 with big win

in Apolitical/Sports/Top Headlines by

Prepare for drama.

Prepare for noise.

Prepare for a sword-fight on a castle wall.

The Tampa Bay Lightning‘s playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings is going to a Game Seven on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena, an advance-or-go-home affair that is among the best of the playoffs of professional sports. The Lightning earned their way into the deciding game with a 5-2 victory in which their offense finally found room to skate.

This time, tiny Tyler Johnson was the leader, scoring two goals to get the Lightning off to a 3-0 lead. For the series, Johnson has scored six times. This time, Johnson dared the Wings to play chase, and this time, they could not keep up.

For the Lightning, it will be the fifth Game Seven of their history. In 2004, they beat Calgary in the Finals and Philadelphia in the semis in Game Sevens, and in 2011, they beat Pittsburgh in the opening round and they lost to the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final.

It was the third time that Tampa Bay has rallied from a deficit in the series. It lost the first game to go down 1-0, the third game to go down 2-1 and the fifth game to go down 3-2. But each time, including twice in Detroit, the Bolts have gotten back into the series.

This time, the Lightning played with an urgency that hasn’t been there the entire series. Tampa Bay finally started fast, and it never looked back. Johnson scored less than four minutes into the game, and goals by Jason Garrison and another by Johnson put Tampa Bay ahead 3-0. The Red Wings’ Tomas Tartar scored twice to bring Detroit within one goal, but the Lightning got goals from Alex Killorn and an empty-netter from Ondrej Palat to pull away.

The Red Wings had a lot of advantages Wednesday night. They were home, and they had a hot goalie in Petr Mrazek, and they got seven power play opportunities. Once again, they made life miserable for Steven Stamkos, who had only two shots and was held without a goal for the sixth straight playoff game.

Still, Tampa Bay won. In all, the Triplets line of Johnson, Palat and Nikita Kucherov had three goals and four assists. For much of the night, it looked like the regular season with the Lightning finding room on the ice.

After being shut out in two of the previous games, much of the pregame conversation had been in the discussion of how much the Red Wings were guilty of interference.

There wasn’t much of that Monday night. It was speed that set up Johnson’s opening goal, and speed that led Garrison to his goal. Johnson again and Killorn simply outskated the Wings on their way to the net.

“We skated,” said Lightning coach John Cooper. “That’s what changed. Pucks were going tape to tape and we put them in areas we could get them.”

In the end, for all of the emotions of the series, for all the times the lanes were clogged for the Lightning, they have bought themselves one more game, and it’s at home where the Bolts’ record has been so good for much of the season.

Either way, a Game Seven promises memories. Remember the first Game Seven, when Nikolai Khabibulin held off Keith Primeau of the Flyers? Remember the second one, when Ruslan Fedotenko scored twice and the Bolts won a Cup? Remember the third, when the Lightning staved off elimination for the third straight game? Remember the fourth, when the Lightning lost 1-0 to Tim Thomas and Nathan Horton‘s third period goal.

Four Game Sevens, four one-goal games.

No one should be shocked if that happens again. The Wings are a disciplined team that hasn’t surrendered to the momentum yet. But Monday night, at least, the Lightning finally resembled the high-scoring team that was so good in the regular season.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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