So rarely does a four-goal game have such an obviously pivotal moment as did last night’s 6-2 Lightning win to even their series with the Rangers at a game apiece. Rather than the laugher the score suggests, it was, for most of its runtime, a tense, thrilling game: maybe the fastest and most wide-open of these playoffs so far, absolutely exhausting to watch—Fury Road on skates—before devolving into a blowout in the third. On a night the Lightning offense finally broke out, they’ve got Ben Bishop to thank for covering their backs.
The Rangers never looked bowed by Conn Smythe frontrunner Tyler Johnson’s
natural hat trick, striking back within three minutes of his first and six minutes of his third, and owning play in the latter end of the second period. A 3-2 Lightning lead felt tenuous, with only Bishop standing in the way of some absurd 1980s scoreline, and the third period promised fireworks—until the Rangers took an early penalty. But Rick Nash picked off a puck for a shorthanded breakaway (the thing about end-to-end games is that they’re necessarily sloppy on the first end), put a wrister right into Bishop, and then trailer Jesper Fast had his shot:
Fast couldn’t get the puck up, and Ben Bishop—all 6-foot-7 of him—closed the backdoor with a left-pad save. “They score there,” Bishop said, “you don’t know how the game turns out.” Instead of a tie game and all the momentum on the Rangers’ side, the Lightning scored two goals on five shots over the next five minutes to pull away.
It’s a five-game series now, and we still haven’t seen both teams at their best at the same time. The Lightning looked oddly enervated in Game 1, while the Rangers were outright slapstick-bad in most of Game 2. This series may end up going to whoever can settle down first—and judging things just from last night, Bishop, Johnson, and the Lightning don’t have very far to go.
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