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Hockey

You possibly can’t ask for higher hockey. Besides, perhaps, the ultimate rating.

TAMPA — Your Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender gave up six targets.

Your Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe-winning star obtained caught flatfooted in additional time.

Your rigorously reconstructed group of defensemen blew a two-goal lead within the third interval.

Then again, what a blast.

You’re most likely not going to wish to begin off the Lightning’s 2021 scrapbook with Thursday evening’s 6-5 additional time loss to Florida however, truthfully, hockey doesn’t get rather more entertaining. For that matter, life doesn’t get rather more entertaining.

This was like a novel at warp pace. Disappointment and glory. Foreshadowing and plot twists. Every staff getting back from a two-goal deficit, and each one of many 11 targets coming from another person’s stick.

And, in case you occur to be a Lightning fan, the gut-punch of watching the villains skate off into the sundown.

This is the reason sequels promote in Hollywood.

Aren’t you desirous to see what occurs now in Recreation 4 on Saturday afternoon? Isn’t your abdomen just a bit queasy after watching the Panthers take Tampa Bay’s finest shot in a five-goal second interval after which come again with their very own reply within the third interval? Don’t you marvel, after three consecutive highway wins, why anybody would need home-ice benefit?

“Like a variety of playoff video games, there have been a variety of totally different momentum swings on this recreation,” mentioned ahead Alex Killorn, who scored Tampa Bay’s fifth purpose. “Them going up two, us scoring 5 within the second interval, them having a greater third interval than us. We needed to have a greater third interval to present ourselves an opportunity to win this recreation however, like I mentioned, playoff hockey.”

To be sincere, a lesser staff would most likely be shaking proper now. The Lightning had been lower than 4 minutes from taking a commanding three-game lead within the collection; now momentum has swung dramatically to Florida’s locker room.

However permit me to supply this reminder: Tampa Bay was additionally up 2-1 in opposition to Columbus after three video games within the first spherical final season. To not point out in opposition to Boston, New York and Dallas, too. As soon as a collection reached Recreation 4 final season, the Lightning went 8-2 within the playoffs.

“I’m not apprehensive when it comes our group responding after a loss like this,” defenseman Victor Hedman mentioned. “Issues like this are going to occur.”

Panthers left wing Ryan Lomberg shoots and scores, beating Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for the winning overtime goal.
Panthers left wing Ryan Lomberg shoots and scores, beating Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for the successful additional time purpose. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

On this case, it occurred on Hedman’s watch. The successful purpose got here out of nowhere when Radko Gudas made an extended go to Frank Vatrano within the impartial zone. Vatrano had Jan Rutta and Hedman on both facet of him, however instantly noticed Ryan Lomberg who was skating previous Hedman’s bottom into open territory. Lomberg was then one-on-one with Andrei Vasilevskiy and buried his shot.

However that was only one play amongst dozens of standout moments.

You need inspiration? How about Anthony Cirelli lastly discovering the again of the web after going 28 video games — and a bit greater than 500 minutes of ice time — with out a purpose.

You need motion? How about Vasilevskiy sliding to the left of the crease, then diving backward to make a stick save on MacKenzie Weegar within the second interval.

You need an unsung hero? How about Ryan McDonagh stealing the puck at mid-ice, then sending a superbly positioned go to a streaking Steven Stamkos for Tampa Bay’s third purpose.

You desire a plot twist? How concerning the winner being scored not by Stamkos or Nikita Kucherov or Brayden Level or Aleksander Barkov or Jonathan Huberdeau, however as an alternative the 26-year-old Lomberg who had two profession NHL targets on his resume.

You need quirky? The Lightning have now misplaced 4 consecutive playoff video games at Amalie Enviornment relationship to 2018. But, they managed to win a Stanley Cup in between.

Sure, it was a nutty recreation. And sure, it was disappointing as a result of the Lightning took their foot off the gasoline within the third interval and tried to play extra conservative than they normally do.

However that’s why we watch as a result of there’s at all times the possibility you’ll see one thing you weren’t anticipating, and should by no means see once more.

“There’s been a variety of ebbs and flows on this collection,” mentioned Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “There’s been a variety of lead adjustments. There was an entire bunch in Recreation 1 and, once more, just a few tonight. We blew a two-goal lead, they blew a two-goal lead. It’s two fairly offensive groups that may put the puck within the web. Typically the defensive facet will get skewed a bit bit.

“I believe we seemed up and thought we might defend our means out of it. We simply don’t wish to change the best way we play. Credit score to them, I’d be disillusioned in the event that they didn’t push again, dealing with the actual fact they might have gone down 0-3.”

John Romano might be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Comply with @romano_tbtimes.

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