There was a time not long ago, last season to be exact, when the prospect of a controversial goal against, combined with a goal for called back on nothing offside, would have crumpled the Tampa Bay Lightning. Jon Cooper euphemistically referred to the two incidents as “a sandwich”, but make no mistake, the Lightning coach was talking about a sh– sandwich. In Game 2 of their second-round series against the Boston Bruins, the Lightning took their sandwich without skating the rest of the game with a bitter taste in their mouths.
There were six players in the Lightning lineup for Game 2 – defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn and forwards Blake Coleman, Patrick Maroon and Barclay Goodrow (and backup goalie Curtis McElhinney) – who had no part of the 2018-19 season when the Lightning imploded in the playoffs and folded at the first sign of adversity. Five of those players had points on the four goals the Lightning scored on the evening and the newcomers registered a goal or assist on each of the goals.
That was not the only reason why the Lightning won, but the fact that the Lightning had an answer every time the Bruins struck was due in large part to the guys who were not in the lineup last season. When the Lightning goal was called back, Cooper was livid, but the Lightning did not take on the persona of their coach. And their ability to put aside the adversity was key in them tying the series.
“I don’t think they care,” Cooper said of the additions. “None of those guys were in our room last year. They’ve jumped into our team this year and the culture we’ve built, but they’ve come here to win and they don’t want to hear about last year or previous years. It’s a new team, new year. Everybody is pulling in the right direction.”
There is no disputing the fact that the Lightning had a core of players who made that team one of the NHL’s truly elite teams. But as they say, if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. GM Julien BriseBois was not content to have one of the most talent-laden lineups in the world, and set about to getting some experienced players who could help them through the bad times. To wit, he signed Luke Schenn to a one-year, $700,000 deal that could be buried in the minors if things didn’t work out. With Ryan McDonagh out of the lineup, Schenn gave the Lighting 12 quality minutes of ice time.
But it was at the trade deadline that BriseBois did his best work, acquiring Coleman and Goodrow in trades and signing Bogosian after his contract was terminated by the Buffalo Sabres. Each of them recorded a point on the Lightning’s first goal of the game, a spectacular effort in which Bogosian capped a remarkable solo rush by passing to Coleman, who dived to direct the puck into the Bruins net.
“It’s remarkable what these guys have done for us,” Cooper said. “We’ve grabbed a bunch of guys who have chips on their shoulder…not necessarily to put points up on the board. They were brought in to make us a better hockey team and the fact that they are contributing in these big moments, showing up on the stats sheet, it just goes to show the character they have in them. It’s not going to be (Nikita Kucherov) every night. It will be most nights, but it’s not every night. Same with (Brayden) Point. To have some of these guys chip in, you need that.”
You also have to be able to win games in overtime, something the Lightning have done in these playoffs. With the win in Game 2, the Lightning are 3-0 in extra time in the first two rounds and had a shootout win over the Washington Capitals in the round-robin qualifying round. The win in Game 2 came after the Bruins tied the score with less than four minutes left, another indication this team has matured.
“Technically, we’ve played seven playoff games and three of them have gone to overtime,” Cooper said. “If you want to go anywhere, you have to win them. Again, it kind of goes back to the mental makeup of your players and can they rise to the moment on the big stage? Everybody has to believe and everyone has to be part of it.”