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Lightning needs a bit player to take a major role in Cup

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In chess, there are times you have to take another player with a pawn.

In blackjack, you have to win sometimes with a 15.

And in hockey, sometimes you need a goal from a bit player.

Ask the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the two teams left standing, It would be a very nice thing indeed to get a goal from an unexpected source. A fourth-liner. A defenseman. A bit player seizing a moment. Someone.

Hey, even supporting actors have to carry a scene every now and then, don’t they?

Not with the Lightning. Tampa Bay has ridden its stars hard in these playoffs, and for the most part, those stars have kept the Bolts plugged in. They have been uncommonly good. By now, you can probably recite the numbers. How Tyler Johnson has 12 and Nikita Kucherov has nine and Alex Killorn has eight and Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat each have seven.

But who else?

If the Bolts are going to win this Stanley Cup Finals series, that probably has to change. No team survives all the time without the little guys chipping in. In the ocean, every man has to have a paddle.

For instance, the famed Triplets line has run into a rough patch of ice. In the last five games, Tyler Johnson has no goals, Ondrej Palat has only one and Nikita Kucherov has only two, both in a losing cause. They have combined for only five assists.

“I don’t know if questions got asked that Toews and Kane didn’t score, so is there concern about them?” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ” There’s not concern about those guys.

“For me, I’m not standing here right now if it wasn’t for their play throughout the series. They’ve proven time and time again they may be kept off the score sheet a game here, a game there, but you’re not going to keep them off for long. Those kids will find a way. I think it’s a massive compliment when they get asked that question because that means they’ve scored so often and done so many good things. The fact they don’t do it once, it’s alarming. To me that’s the ultimate compliment. So I have no worries.”

Still, it is one thing to be concerned and another for a team to ask someone else to pick them up.

And yet, 21 games into the playoffs, the Lightning are still waiting.

“It’s very important,” said forward Ryan Callahan. “In order to have success this time of year, you have to have that. Our first two lines have carried most of the weight, but guys have chipped in. I think secondary scoring is going to be important. Guys are going to have to come up with big goals at big times.”

But who?

Brendon Morrow has no goals. Jonathan Drouin has no goals. Cedric Paquette has one goal.

Ryan Callahan has one goal. Nikita Nesterov has one goal. Brian Boyle has one goal.

Defensemen Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison all have one goal.

“Yeah, I mean, I know I’ve got one goal” Boyle said. “and I’d certainly like a lot  more than that. But you got to kind of play the game as it plays out in  front of you. It’s something that we want to get more production, but we’re in the Cup Final right now. We’re getting enough production so far from everybody, I think.”

In all, only five Lightning players have more than three goals. Only six have more than one. Ten players from the Chicago Blackhawks have more than three. Twelve have more than one.

Can it be done? Of course it can. In 2003-04, the year the Lightning won the Cup, there were only five players who had more than two goals in the post-season. Every team isn’t an explosion.

But if this team is going to win this thing, you would think it would need a seeing-eye goal, a trickle-in goal, a bad carom goal.

You would think that eventually it will come down to an unlikely hero.

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

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