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NHL PLAYOFFS

Lightning's anger pays off, eliminate Canadiens

By Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun

Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (centre), centre Tyler Johnson (left) and Steven Stamkos (right) celebrates a goal against the Canadiens during second period NHL playoff action in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (centre), centre Tyler Johnson (left) and Steven Stamkos (right) celebrates a goal against the Canadiens during second period NHL playoff action in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

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TAMPA, FLA. - 

Enough was enough.

Jon Cooper saw the anger in his Tampa Bay Lightning players after they lost Game 5 against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

Elation became the overriding emotion in the Lightning dressing room on Tuesday night.

Tampa finally rid itself of the hockey ghosts that lingered from a 2014 playoff sweep at the hands of the Canadiens, sending the Habs home for the summer with a 4-1 victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference second-round series.

It was none other than captain Steven Stamkos who scored the winning goal, coming on a play in the second period that was typical Stamkos. He had answered questions in the playoffs about his health and his lack of goal scoring, but there was Stamkos putting the Lightning on his back in a crucial game.

“I’ve always talked about how 2011 (the Lightning’s most recent trip to the conference final) was the most fun I’ve ever had playing this game,” Stamkos said. “We’re getting right on that right now. I want a little better result this time, but this group has been resilient all year. We’ve got a guy like (Ben) Bishop back in the net; we’ve got to believe that anything is possible here. We’re excited.”

Tampa’s clincher came after a pair of losses, and the club has advanced to the conference final for the third time in franchise history. Four years ago, the Lightning lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins, who went on to win the Stanley Cup; in 2004, the Lightning beat the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games and then triumphed over the Calgary Flames for the franchise’s lone Cup title.

The victory should serve as a warning to Tampa’s next opponent. The conference final will start on Saturday, but Tampa won’t know who it will play until Game 7 of the New York Rangers-Washington Capitals is done on Wednesday.

At the same time the Triplets Line of Tyler Johnson between Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov (which has scored 17 of the team’s 34 playoff goals) is steaming along, Stamkos is finding his stride.

The Lightning’s third-round foe will get a team that has been growing through the playoffs. When the Lightning won in Game 7 in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings, it was not the better group that night.

Before a capacity crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena, it spanked the Canadiens with its best performance of the series.

“Sometimes you play poorly and win and you are a little bit nervous that happened,” Cooper said. “And sometimes you start playing well and you lose. I just remember after Game 5, everyone saying the pressure is on us, we have dropped two ... but the calm I had inside myself about this team, I just felt our game was changing. The look in the players’ eyes after that game, I knew these guys were going to roll.”

Afterward, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien appeared to be as spent as his players. His team outshot the Lightning in the previous five games, but that didn’t matter.

“You have to give the Lightning a lot of credit,” Therrien said. “They played their best game of this series. I felt physically and mentally, we were drained. It’s disappointing.

“I don’t think we lost the series tonight. I thought we played really well in Game 1, thought we deserved a better fate — Game 3, same thing. You should win those games. Eventually, it catches up.”

Stamkos got the deciding goal when he fired the puck through defenceman Jeff Petry and past Carey Price early in the second. Kucherov, who would later score into an empty net, deflected a Palat shot in the first past Price; Palat scored in the second thanks to a great five-foot pass from Kucherov.

Max Pacioretty scored for Montreal late in the third.

Tampa rallied around the absence of Ryan Callahan, who had an emergency appendectomy on Monday night. Jonathan Marchessault took the roster spot of Callahan, who is out indefinitely.

“We had Cally’s name up on the board before the game as a little inspiration, and guys stepped up,” Stamkos said. “Everyone had a great game, and that’s why we got the result.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


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