So, who wants to bet against the Lightning now?
Two games into the Eastern Conference Finals the Lightning looked dead. Down 0-2 after two lifeless losses at home.
Now four games into the ECF, the Lightning are tied with the Capitals at two wins apiece. Which way is this series going? No one knows. All we do know is this is now a best-two-of-three series... with the Lightning playing two of those games at home.
And that means nothing.
“Doesn’t matter how you got there,” declared Lightning head coach Jon Cooper as the Bolts returned to Tampa on Friday. “It’s still 2-2. Pretty sure everybody knows how pivotal Game 5 is. I’m sure it’s going to be no different in this series.”
Cooper said exactly that on the eve of the playoffs. He said that home-ice advantage means so little, except that you get home ice for Game 7. The other games? Nothing.
But here we are. This series is headed to a Game 7... at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Wednesday, May 23.
In their 25 seasons, the Lightning have never lost a playoff game in D.C., an almost-unfathomable seven straight wins. But they still have to win one game at home, which neither team has done in this series.
The difference will be goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. The 23-year-old was a stone wall in Game 4, stopping 36 of 38 shots from the Capitals. Remember when he said he was tired in the second half of the season? Not any longer, as Vasy seems to have found a fresh gear for the post-season. He was spectacular in Game 4, leaving Alex Ovechkin muttering to himself after miss after miss on the young Russian, causing him to do this after the game.
And the Lightning’s best players are playing like their best players, to use a trite phrase. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman are dominating play. Scoring, assisting, forechecking, winning puck battles.. exactly the things you have to do to win the Stanley Cup.
Even with the lack of front line scoring, the Lightning have taken two straight in this series. This series will probably take it to the limit, and a decisive Game 7.
We wouldn’t have it any other way. See you next Wednesday for Game 7 at Amalie Arena. Bring your loudest support: your Bolts will need it.