The Tampa Bay Lightning started Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final without two of their top players. By the time it was over, they’d lost a third. But the Bolts got what they came for, with a hard-fought 3–1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.
Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his second career playoff win in relief of Ben Bishop, who sustained an apparent leg injury midway through the first. The 21-year-old made 23 stops and calmed his team with his poised, confident performance.
The Bolts were on their heels for much of the first, but it was Alex Killorn who opened the scoring at 18:46 of the period. The speedy winger collected a stretch pass from Victor Hedman and took advantage of poor positioning by Olli Maatta to drive the net and beat Matt Murray through the five-hole.
Ondrej Palat made it 2–0 on a power play just 2:33 into the second. Valtteri Filppula prevented a clearing attempt and threw the puck on the net, creating a rebound that Palat was able to tuck around Murray’s outstretched pad and into a gaping cage.
The Bolts extended the lead to 3–0 at the 18:25 mark. Kris Letang made an ill-advised pinch in the offensive zone, allowing the Lightning to break out two-on-one. Jonathan Drouin provided a buttery finish to a pass from Palat for his second of the playoffs.
Patric Hornqvist drew the Pens to within two less than a minute later, burying a backhanded from a between-the-legs pass from Sidney Crosby on the power play, but that was as close as Pittsburgh would get.
With the win, the Lightning take a 1–0 series lead and steal home ice for the series. Game 2 is set for Monday night in Pittsburgh.
Here’s a look at a couple of key moments from the game:
Letang knew he’d be a target of the Lightning forecheckers, but he didn’t expect this. Just 2:50 into the first, the Pens defender rambled into the corner to retrieve a dump-in. Lightning forward Ryan Callahan came in hard behind him with arms high and drove Letang head-first into the glass.
It was an ugly play, completely indefensible.
Letang lay on the ice dazed for two minutes before being helped to the dressing room in obvious distress. Meanwhile, the officials conferred on the penalty call. Callahan eventually was issued a five-minute penalty for boarding, with the officials making a curious but critical ruling.
Per Rule 41, boarding which results in major AND injury = game misconduct. Officials determined no injury to Letang on play.— Scouting The Refs (@ScoutingTheRefs) May 14, 2016
Despite five minutes of power play time, the Pens failed to generate a high-end chance, let alone score, blowing a golden opportunity to get on the board first and maybe even put the Bolts into a deep hole. Instead, the score remained knotted at zero when Callahan’s five minutes was up.
Why is there even an option for a major without a game misconduct anymore? Seems like tap-dancing to keep Callahan in the game there.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) May 14, 2016
You have to believe that the Department of Player Safety will issue supplemental discipline here, even without a significant injury to Letang (who returned, coincidentally, as the game was paused for Bishop's injury). One game at a minimum, but two isn’t out of the question for a play this dangerous.
The hit sparked a series of dangerous plays. Tyler Johnson appeared to suffer a knee injury after twisting his body to absorb a heavy hit from Chris Kunitz. He had to be helpd off the ice but eventually returned. Brian Dumoulin was run into the boards head first by Palat in the final minutes of the game. There's no word yet on his condition.
If the Lightning had one apparent edge in this series, it was the presence of Bishop between the pipes. They lost that advantage just 12:35 into the first when the Vezina finalist suffered what appeared to be a significant leg injury.
Bishop was scrambling back into position after misplaying a loose puck behind the net when his left leg appeared to buckle awkwardly under him. He rolled around in obvious agony for several minutes before being taken off the ice on a stretcher to seek medical attention.
There’s been no official word yet from the team on his condition, but head coach Jon Cooper said after the game that X-rays on Bishop came back negative.
Losing Bishop long-term would be a serious blow to the Lightning’s chances, but not necessarily fatal. Vasilevskiy demonstrated that he's one of the best young keepers in the game with several clutch stops, including a post-to-post slide to rob Crosby with the Pens pressing. Like Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, he has the physical skills to carry the mail. Watching his play in this one, he looks to have the composure as well. But this was just one game. We’ll have to see if he’s up to the grind of backstopping the Bolts for an extended period.
Notable Number: 17
That’s the insane number of shot attempts for Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who now has gone five consecutive games without a point. Seven of his attempts went on net, six were blocked and four went wide. Nice to see him pulling the trigger – there is no better way to break a slump. But there was plenty of glide in his game as well. He took a lazy second-period penalty that led to Palat’s game-winning goal and was caught cheating on his check several times. If the Pens are going to get back into this series, they need a more complete effort from Malkin on Monday. Maybe then those pucks will start having eyes.
Tweet of the Game
The Lightning provided the Twitter world with a pretty look at Drouin’s one-timer