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Lightning resilient once again in Stanley Cup Playoffs

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They like to be surrounded.

They love the doubts, the questions, the rolling of eyes. They like it when the skies look dark and the roads look crowded. They enjoy it when the praise is going toward the other guy, when the series is being conceded to them.

Ah, yes. The Tampa Bay Lightning.

When it is hardest for their fans, it is evidently the most fun for them.

The Lighting got off the mat one more time Saturday night, bouncing back from a bitter defeat to pull even in the Stanley Cup Finals at a game apiece. Once again, the Lightning found the way to turn a difficult loss into a memorable win.

This time, they did it against the vaulted Chicago Blackhawks, who are seeking their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. They did it despite giving up another two quick goals that snatched a lead from a win. They did it despite losing the NHL’s winningest goaltender at the same time the Blackhawks came back from a Game 1 victory.

Yep. This is Team Rocky. These are the Comeback Kids.

Hey, they may not win this series. The Blackhawks are pretty good. But this team will not give in. If nothing else, it has made you believe that.

It was that way Saturday night, when the Lightning came back from a deficit, came back from a disappointing defeat and came back from losing their goaltender to capture a 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The entire post-season has been that way for Tampa Bay. They were down 3-2 against Detroit and came back and won. Montreal had seized the momentum in their series, and the Lightning won. The Rangers had history on their side in Game 7 in Madison Square Garden, and the Lightning won that.

Yet, there is a certain stubbornness about this Lightning team, an ability to address its shortcomings and fix them on the fly. It is an admirable quality. This team never seems to panic, never seems to take consecutive punches.

So many things seemed to be going against them. You can start with the Blackhawks, a talented team that knows how to win. You can throw in the lack of secondary scoring. You can mention the slump of the Triplets.

The secondary scoring was helped by goals by Cedric Paquette and Jason Garrison. Then the Triplets got goals from Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson (whose 13th was a franchise record).

But it is the backup goaltender most fans will talk about today. Oh, Andrei Vasilevskiy had shown such promise this year, but really, he was only 7-5. In the playoffs, he had only two relief performances, and neither of those was awe-inspiring. He had a 5.33 goals against average. He had only an .878 save percentage.

But Vasileveskiy came on for Ben Bishop, left when Bishop returned, and then came on again. He stopped all five shots in the same time period the Blackhawks had made their Game 1 comeback.

A one goal lead? Against Chicago? In the Stanley Cup Finals? Was it nervous time?

“Yes, a little bit,” Vasilevskiy said. “But after the first couple of shots, I felt better. I kept my head in the game.”

There is a possibility, of course, that Bishop is out for a while. He didn’t talk after the game, and coach Jon Cooper wouldn’t address his goaltender situation. But the Bolts sound confident in their young Russian.

We have great belief in him,” said defenseman Anton Stralman. “Every time he has played, he’s been a beast.”

“You know what,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “Usually in a situation like that, you tighten up. You feel for him getting thrown in there. But he made a pretty good save on (Brad) Richards on the power play. He made another one. We have confidence in that kid.”

Yes, Stralman said. The team would be confident even if Vasilevski ystarts.

“The one thing about Vasilevskiy   I know we have two unbelievably capable goaltenders,” Cooper said. “ When Bish had to leave, there wasn’t an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself.  I mean, the kid proved it when he went in.  He was great.”

Still, losing Bishop would hurt. Remember last year, when the Bolts were swept in Montreal without him?

“It’s impressive, there’s no question,” said teammate Ryan Callahan. “To come in in a situation like that with that much time left in a one-goal game, I don’t know if I could have done that at his age.”

“I guess it’s kind of rare you see that, but it does happen.” said defenseman Jason Garrison.  “When it happens, you got to make sure you go out there and support the goalie coming in.

“He made some big saves for us.  Goalies are usually very mentally focused, even if they’re on the bench.  So, you know, it seemed the same way.  He came in there and, you know, did his thing.

“If he has to start, we feel confident. I mean, you know, they’re both here for a reason.  We just got to make sure that we communicate with Vasi if that’s the case, support him as much as possible. He’s going to go in there, if he is, he’s going to do a job for us.  We’re not worried about it.”

Again, the Blackhawks are no walk in the park. They are 7-1 at home for a reason. They’ve had some bounce back this post-season, too.

But the more you see of this Lightning team, the more you know whatever doubts you have are misplaced. Yes, they may lose this series.

They will not, however, give in.

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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