Saturday, April 16, 2016

Two Down, Two to Go - Lightning Brawl Their Way to a 2-0 Series Lead

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster”

Play against a team that interferes, hooks, shoves, obstructs and bends the rules long enough and you might begin to pick up some of their habits. While the Lightning have too much talent to completely descend into Nietzche's abyss, after playing them 13 times in the last year (4 regular season games and 9 post season) they are definitely picking up some of the Red Wings' “bad” habits.

The good news for Bolts fans is that that style plays well in the post season. On Friday night, a night before Elton's good night for fighting, the Lightning bullied the Red Wings all over the ice, winning 5-2 and leaving Amalie Arena with a 2-0 lead in the series. As the game descended into chaos around him, Tyler Johnson continued to torture the Red Wings scoring 2 goals and pickinh up 2 assists. Through the first two games Detroit has yet to find a way to slow down Tyler and the Killer K's as Johnson, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov have combined to score 15 points through the first two games.

The Red Wings literally can't keep Nikita out of the net. Photo by Mike Carlson Getty Images

However, the story of the game wasn't so much Johnson's performance, but the state of affairs between the two teams. It's not very cordial. Last year, the Lightning were frustrated by the way Detroit played hockey. They tried to continue to score pretty goals and were constantly taken aback by the borderline shiftiness that the Red Wings excel at. The after-the-whistle pushing and shoving, the borderline interference and obstruction, the elbows that got up a little higher than should be allowed.

This year the Lightning seem ready for it. Not only that, they are giving just as good as they get. They seemed inspired by the play of the Prodigal Son, Jonathan Drouin, who was just as surly in Game Two as he was in Game One. After getting bloodied by an elbow from Riley Sheahan midway through the second period, Drouin literally chased the young Red Wing around the ice trying to get him to fight. Sadly we were denied the opportunity of seeing how well the former number 3 overall pick could throw hands, but it was a prime example of how this team doesn't back down from anyone.

Drouin was involved in another example later in the game when he set Brian Boyle up for his goal (the only goal not scored by Tyler and the Killers so far this season). Boyle played pretty loose with the interference rules as he took Luke Glendening out of the play which freed up the puck to start Drouin on the offensive rush.

Hey, if Boyle hadn't shoved him, Glendening would never have even touched the puck!

I would like to see the Lightning win playing a hockey version of The Beautiful Game, but I would like to see them win the Stanley Cup more. In the playoffs you can get away with more than you would in the regular season and it looks like they are starting to realize that. They can still score goals with speed and talent (see Johnson's second goal where Kucherov blows by Alexey Marchenko and sets TJ up for the perfect one-timer) but they are now getting the ugly goals as well. Johnson scored the game winner by planting himself in front of three Red Wings and whacking at the puck while taking a shove in the back.

On defense they're doing the same thing. Detroit is getting time in the offensive zone, but they're having trouble getting shots through. When they do get a shot on net either Ben Bishop is soaking it up or whatever rebound is there is cleared by the Lightning. The Red Wings are frustrated, why else would former Lady Byng winner Brad Richards touch off a game-ending brawl with a viscous slash at Andrej Sustr's legs?

Things really escalated.  I think Brick killed a guy.  Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

There is a fine line between aggressive and reckless. So far the Lightning have toed it pretty well, but now that the line match-ups are going to favor the Red Wings they will have to be careful not to get caught out of position. Roughing and fighting penalties are one thing, but if they start picking up the hooking, holding and tripping penalties that indicate a player getting beat on a play then things could escalate in a bad way for them. At some point Detroit is going to start scoring with the man advantage.

The Lightning have done a great job of antagonizing the Red Wings through the first two games (speaking of antagonizing – props to the PA guy for playing “Separate Ways” during the official timeout after the brawl. That drove Detroit fans absolutely INSANE). Now that they have them on the ropes they have to make sure to finish them off. In tight, highly-charged series like this, giving the other team even a sense that they can come back could be disastrous.

The Hopeful Chase 3 Stars:

3 - Ryan Callahan – I know he didn't have a point, but he played 19 minutes of hard hockey. He was blocking shots and breaking up passes all night long. Also, you gotta get some credit when you dive on top of a scrum to pull players off.

Callahan has his "I'm gonna hit a rookie face" going. Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

2 - Ben Bishop – Another ho-hum 30 save game for Bish. While the Lightning dominated most of the game, the big netminder made saves when he needed to, including at the end of the first. He probably would have liked to have the Dylan Larkin goal back, but for the most part he has been the wall that the Lightning need him to be.

1 - Tyler Johnson - Two goals, two assists and another huge game for the Red Wing killer. I think it's safe to say there are no lingering effects from the hit he took in the last game of the season.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

He did! His clearing attempt was picked up by Alex Killorn and the Harvard Man slid it into the empty net. Maybe a cheap way to pick up a point, but it still counts. Carle was on the ice for almost 20 minutes (mainly because Victor Hedman couldn't stay out of the penalty box) and it shows Coach Cooper's growing trust in him that he was on the ice at the end of the game. If Anton Stralman comes back, Carle might not be the automatic scratch (I'm looking at you, Nikita Nesterov).

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