If the series is tied, then why in the world do the Tampa Bay Lightning seem so far behind?
Technically, the Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins are knotted at three games, with one walk across the tightrope left to determine who goes to the Stanley Cup Final. But considering the team’s lethargic performance in a 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh, it feels worse.
During the series, the Penguins at their best have been better than the Lightning at their best. Pittsburgh is averaging more than 38 shots a game and almost four goals per game.
So who needs to play better?
A short list:
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Yes, the Lightning have constantly praised Vasilevskiy. But most hockey teams do, especially when there is no alternative. Vasilevskiy hasn’t held the Penguins to less than three goals in any game. He needs to be better than good tonight. He needs to have his best game of the season.
2. Victor Hedman: After the second round, you could hear whispers that Hedman might be on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Award as the playoff MVP. But Hedman was a minus-four on Tuesday night for the first time all season. Hey, someone has to control Sidney Crosby, right?
3. Tyler Johnson: He’s a little guy, and he gets banged up a lot. Even now, his mouth is mass of scabs. But the Lightning could use Johnson’s energy. Johnson, too, was minus four on Tuesday.
4. Nikita Kucherov: This one isn’t fair. He scored twice in the Bolts’ 4-3 win in Game Four. But the Bolts need a dose of what Kucherov can bring now more than ever. When he scores, the Lightning is usually ok.
5. J.T. Brown: A wild-card here. Brown (and Cedric Paquette) can be exactly the sort of irritants that the Bolts need to offset Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
6. (tie) Everyone else: In a big game, no one is ever sure just where a big goal will come from. Ondrej Palat? Jonathan Drouin? Jason Garrison? Regardless, it would help if the Bolts could score first. It would help if they can avoid the penalty kill early so they can get their momentum going.