One of the biggest worries for the Tampa Bay Lightning with the losses of Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman heading into the first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings was that their power play would suffer. Though that might have been the case in the first game of the series, it didn’t matter much as it was Tampa Bay’s other special teams unit, the penalty kill, that made the difference.
It should come as no surprise that special teams made a difference in the penalty-filled affair, either. The Lightning and Red Wings were both in the bottom half of the league in times shorthanded, and that was apparent in the opening game of the series as the team’s combined for 18 penalties. It also shouldn’t be too surprising that in a game that came down to special teams, it was the Lightning who came out on top.
During the regular season, the Lightning ranked seventh in the league in penalty killing at 84 percent and they had no problem in Game 1 taking care of the Red Wings’ 13th-ranked power play. Five times in the opening game of the series the Lightning found themselves shorthanded, and each time they snuffed out the Red Wings’ power play attempts. All told, Tampa Bay allowed only five shots against while down a man.
Of those five shots, none seemed to truly test Lightning netminder Ben Bishop, and that was par for the course with the way Bishop played throughout the regular season. Only six goaltenders all campaign had more work down a man than Bishop and only Anaheim Ducks netminder John Gibson fared better than Bishop’s .911 SP.
Bishop wasn’t just outstanding when the Lightning were down a man, through. He was impressive throughout the entire contest and stopped 34 of the 36 shots that came his way over the course of the contest. And during tense moments in the final minute of the contest with the Red Wings’ net empty, Bishop calmed the Lightning with clutch saves, even if he did need some help from Valtteri Filppula, who may have saved the game-tying goal when he got his stick in front of a Mike Green attempt.
But while the difference-makers in the game may have been the play of the Lightning penalty kill and Bishop, the box score will forever show that it was Alex Killorn who gave Tampa Bay the victory. Shortly after the midway mark of the third frame, Killorn batted a Tyler Johnson centering attempt out of mid-air and past Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. That would stand as the game-winning goal, but it was the second time in the contest the Lightning had pulled ahead in a matter of minutes. The only problem was the first go-ahead goal, scored by Victor Hedman on a cannon of a shot, didn’t count.
The coach’s challenge made its playoff debut following Hedman’s goal as Detroit coach Jeff Blashill wanted the play reviewed for a potential offside by Lightning winger Jonathan Drouin. The review was close, but Drouin’s back leg lifted off the ice and the play was called back. Two minutes later, though, Killorn scored his game-winner.
If Wednesday’s series-opener is any indication, though, the tone for the series has been set in the 2015 post-season rematch between Detroit and Tampa Bay. Both sides made their distaste for each other apparent, but Game 1 showed that it may be in the Red Wings’ best interest to keep play at five a side. The Lightning penalty kill came up big when needed and Bishop stood tall when called upon. Add a timely goal to that, and now Tampa Bay has a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead before the series shifts back to Detroit.