The league’s highest scoring team retooled its roster in the wake of a stunning first-round loss to Columbus in 2019, feeling it needed to get tougher and more defensive-minded to contend for a Stanley Cup title.
So far, so good.
The Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday, rallying for a 5-4 overtime victory that ended a first-round rematch with the Blue Jackets in five games.
Tampa Bay scored twice in the final eight minutes of regulation before Brayden Point’s second overtime winner in eight days sealed the Lightning’s first playoff series victory since 2018. Nikita Kucherov assisted on all three goals.
“We had 422 days to think about it, but who’s counting,” coach Jon Cooper said of ousting the Blue Jackets.
While the Lightning continued to maintain redemption was not the team’s main objective, Cooper reiterated the importance of learning from past failures .
The Lightning acquired veterans Kevin Shattenkirk and Pat Maroon during the offseason after being swept by the Blue Jackets 16 months ago.
Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow were added at the trade deadline in February and have made a difference in the playoffs while playing on a line with Yanni Gourde.
Shattenkirk’s third-period goal began Tampa Bay’s comeback Wednesday. Coleman also scored in Game 5, while Goodrow was an integral part of a one-goal victory in Game 4.
Cooper noted Coleman and Goodrow have been everything the Lightning hoped they’d be.
“This is the reason we got them. We think we’re a playoff team. It just comes down to winning in the playoffs,” Cooper said.
“You go down our roster, and it’s hard to squeeze guys into the `top six,’ but we didn’t feel like that was our need. We need to be hard to play against,” the coach added. “And harder years ago used to mean physical, fighting, big and strong. Today it means compete, and speed, and kind of in your face hockey. We need those type of guys.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 37 shots and Tyler Johnson and Anthony Cirelli also scored for Tampa Bay in the clincher.
Columbus scored four consecutive goals to overcome an early two-goal deficit, taking a 4-2 lead on Oliver Bjorkstrand’s with 9:33 remaining in regulation.
Shattenkirk said being down two goals, the Lightning’s confidence never wavered.
“A lot of learning went into last year,” Cooper said. “We had to grow as a team.”
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