Ben Bishop knows how to clinch.
For the second consecutive series, the Tampa Bay Lightning goalie pitched a shutout in an elimination game. On Sunday, it took just 28 saves to lead the Bolts to a 4-0 Game 5 victory over the New York Islanders.
With the win, the Lightning take the series 4-1 and advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the second consecutive season and the third time the past six years.
Victor Hedman scored twice to pace the Tampa Bay attack. Brian Boyle and Nikita Kucherov, with his playoff-leading ninth goal, added goals of their own.
Here are three thoughts on the series finale:
Lightning no flash in the pan
Safe to say we underestimated the Lightning.
Not everyone, of course. But many wondered whether this team had the depth to overcome a couple of injuries serious enough to derail the aspirations of most contenders. Through two rounds now, it sure looks like they have the goods.
They had several heroes in this series. Sunday it was Hedman's turn. He got the Bolts on the board in the first, swiping the puck off the stick of Kyle Okposo before spinning and firing a shot that slipped through a forest of bodies to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead. He then wrapped a bow on it with a second-period power play marker set up by a brilliant, no-look feed off the sideboards from Jonathan Drouin.
That goal was his fourth of the series and his eighth point. An impressive turn, even without considering the defensive blanket he threw over John Tavares. The Islanders captain was a non-factor after Game 1, going pointless in the final four games. It took a team effort to shut him down, but it was Hedman who elevated his play and stepped up to the challenge. He was the player of the series.
It was a nice effort from Bishop as well. He wasn't tested often through the first two periods as the Isles struggled with their possession game, but he came up big in the third as they made one last, desperate push. He had a pair of rough outings in this series, but held the Isles to one goal on the final 53 shots he faced. That's the sort of nails netminding that suggests Tampa's next opponents are in for a rough go.
Over and Out
The Isles were never really in this game. They came out flat from the start, and never managed to ramp up their intensity or their execution to match the level of the Lightning.
Maybe that was inevitable after dropping Games 3 and 4 in Brooklyn. Tough enough to drop two of the best games they’ve played all year. But to lose them both in overtime? That was a gut punch from which this team couldn't recover.
They didn't have the will to mount a comeback in this one. Or the manpower. Too often New York's fourth line was its most effective, and as honest as that trio is, that's not a recipe for success. There will be questions about Tavares’s performance in this series (1-1-2, -5), but it's hard to fault him when he's saddled with a string of underperforming linemates. Honestly, it wouldn't be a surprise to hear he was dealing with some kind of injury through this series as well. There wasn't a lot of spring in his step, and he might have been fighting through something.
The defense wasn't particularly stout either—Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan were overmatched throughout—and goaltender Thomas Greiss was exposed after an excellent first round. He allowed four goals on Sunday, and he was at fault on two of them. That's a deep hole to dig.
The Isles advanced to the second round for the first time in 23 years. That's no small thing. But their performance in this round made it clear how far they have to go before they're something more than just a speed bump to be rolled over by the real contenders.
Cavalry on the way?
Maybe the most impressive aspect of Tampa Bay’s blitzkreig through the first two rounds is that it was able to adjust to the losses of two of its most important players and excel without them. Now, with a few days off until the start of the conference final, it's only a matter of time before Anton Stralman (sooner) and Steven Stamkos (later) return to the lineup with fresh legs and a hunger to make a contribution.
Hard not to see this group as deep enough, and strong enough, to make a legitimate run at the Cup.