Lightning passing mettle tests this postseason


Lightning passing mettle tests this postseason

TAMPA, Fla. — How to handle the difficult moments: It’s what ultimately shows mettle, be it in a person or a team.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have taken their tests, so to speak, this postseason. So far, they've passed.

The Lightning might be young. They might not have the postseason experience of the Blackhawks. But they know how to handle themselves when things get tough. Now that mettle gets the ultimate test beginning on Wednesday, when the Lightning host the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Tampa Bay came back from a 3-2 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings in its first-round series and then blanked the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to advance to the Cup Final. But coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning started learning lessons two seasons ago when Steven Stamkos broke his leg in November 2013. Several players, including Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn, got increased responsibilities in Stamkos’ absence. That and getting swept by the Montreal Canadiens last spring had the right effects on the Lightning.

“We went into the summer with the sting of what had happened. I think it fueled us this year,” Cooper said. “We’ve had a history of not going into these long losing streaks because of the attitude that’s in that room. It’s been pretty cool to watch them as the series has gone on.”

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Viktor Hedman also pointed to last year’s loss to the Canadiens as a wake-up call.

“To get swept left a bitter taste in our mouth after that series,” he said. “The experience we gained from that helped our growth. We faced a lot of adversity with injuries, but nothing seems to bother this team. We keep pushing through. We’re very proud to be a part of this team.”

Tampa Bay has a lot of young players who haven’t seen too many playoff series, let alone lengthy ones. But the Lightning’s offseason acquisitions helped bolster their seasoned-veteran presence. Last summer the Bolts signed Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle, both of whom went to the 2014 Cup Final with the New York Rangers. They also signed Brendan Morrow, the former captain of the Dallas Stars who went on several postseason runs with that team, including one all the way to the 2000 Cup Final.

Morrow said he’s been impressed with the Lightning’s resolve.

“It seems like the bigger stage, the tougher the game, they rally and find ways,” he said. “It’s kind of been the same group that’s doing it; we’d like to find secondary scoring to help the Stamkos and (Tyler) Johnson lines. But every test we’ve been put in, every big game we’ve (rose) to the occasion.”

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Tampa Bay might not have a core like the Blackhawks that has been tested through many lengthy postseason runs. But the Lightning do have a good mix of players, a lot of youthful speed and confidence, be it from past experiences or this postseason’s tests.

“Every round has given us a different challenge. To go up three games in a round (vs. Montreal), then give it up and then have to win that. To have a chance to win at home against the Presidents Trophy champs (Rangers), blow that, then have to go up and win in an environment that nobody’s really won before,” Cooper said. “Every time there’s been that little bit of adversity, we feel like we’re down and out, they come back with a knockout punch. But that started two years ago, and the attitude has not changed.”

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?