PITTSBURGH – The Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from another chance at hockey’s Holy Grail.
The Lightning rallied twice and finally outlasted the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday. Jason Garrison’s shot 53 seconds into overtime deflected off Tyler Johnson's back past Marc-Andre Fleury to win the game.
Goalie Andre Vasilevskiy made 33 saves while Nikita Kucherov had two goals, becoming the NHL’s leading goal-scorer in the postseason with 11. Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in the game with a strong third period, making two tough saves on Chris Kunitz.
It was a valorous performance from the Lightning. They overcame the expected jolt for the Penguins with the return of Marc-Andre Fleury, who was making his first start since March 30 after having taken the crease back from rookie Matt Murray in Game 4. They overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-2. And in the third period, they overcame the referees’ decision to swallow their whistles on several questionable calls.
They also overcame their own mistakes, as the Lightning gave up goals in the final minute of each of the first two periods.
The first goal of the game was set up by the blazing speed of Bryan Rust with clicks remaining on the clock.
Rust collected the puck at center ice and took on Victor Hedman 1-on-1. He motored around the Lightning’s elite D-man, and then won a physical battle to get the puck on goal. Hedman cross-checked him into Andre Vasilevskiy, and the Lightning goalie couldn’t get back into position by the time defenseman Brian Dumoulin cashed in the rebound for the 1-0 lead with 0.7 seconds remaining in the period.
The second period saw an early delay for a pane of broken glass, but that did little to slow the Penguins’ offense.
Olli Maatta – in for Trevor Daley, who will miss the remainder of the playoffs with a broken ankle – fired a pass from the point Carl Hagelin in front of the Lightning goal. He deflected it. Vasilevskiy made the save … right to Patric Hornqvist, standing on the doorstep for his seventh of the playoffs.
The Lightning were unfazed, however. After killing off a Penguins’ power play, Alex Killorn scored his fifth of the playoffs at 13:50 on a nasty snipe over Fleury’s shoulder to cut the lead to 2-1.
Then it was Nikita Kucherov scoring his 10th of the playoffs and first of the conference final, left alone to Fleury’s right for a shot that tied the game just 1:10 later.
The Tampa Bay quick-strike offense appeared to have shifted the momentum. But again, the Lightning allowed a late goal, this time to Chris Kunitz.
Maatta made a nifty move to keep the play onside, and eventually deflected a pass to Evgeni Malkin. He used a slow-motion spin move to force a shot at the Lightning goal. Vasilevskiy made the initial save, and Chris Kunitz fired home the rebound with 49.6 seconds left in the second period for the 3-2 lead.
But it was Kucherov again that sent the game to overtime.
Moments after Ryan Callahan rang one off the post, Kucherov motored down the left side, feeding the puck to Tyler Johnson. He sent an innocent shot that Fleury attempted to steer to the corner, but instead kicked it right to Kucherov, wrapped it around for the tie.
Then, moments into OT, the game was over.
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