Steven Stamkos said it was, “probably the craziest playoff period you’re going to see the rest of the way.”
Jon Cooper agreed, comparing it to The Hulk roller coaster at Universal Orlando.
“That was chaotic — it was a damn circus out there,” smiled the Lightning coach. “But, definitely no refunds after that one. Take your coach’s hat off, it was one hell of an entertaining second period.”
In a tight-checking series against Carolina, in which both teams have repeatedly lamented how little room there is to make plays, it all suddenly unfolded into a hockey fan’s dream.
Eight goals in a single period, the first time in 11 years an NHL playoff game has seen anything like it.
Four from the Hurricanes and four from the host Bolts.
How wonderful that a fairly packed arena by the bay got to experience it live.
In fact, the raucous gathering likely did well to spur the madness on, as the hosts rallied from a 4-2 deficit with four unanswered goals in a 6-4 win.
In a series that featured just 11 goals in the previous three games, few could have predicted the turn of events, especially since Cooper and Co. won the Stanley Cup a year earlier by making a concerted effort to avoid such rampant red lighting.
As Tyler Johnson put it, “it’s not our bread and butter — it’s not what our team preaches. We have to be better defensively.”
Okay, we get it — defence wins championships.
But on a team spearheaded by Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Stamkos (who combined for five goals and eight points) we had to ask Cooper if we are really supposed to believe he’d prefer his team avoids the odd pond hockey production.
“There was a time we were kind of the greatest show on ice a few years ago, and many times those ended up in disappointing playoff outs,” explained the coach. “Probably why we’ve had success the last couple years is the team has this ability to win in different ways. If you want to get into a shootout we have a group that can do it that way. But it’s not ideal. We really have this true belief that it’s what you keep out of your net and not how much you put in the other net. We try to live by that.
“Does it always go by plan? No. But if you want to go far it’s just the mentality you have to have. If you’re defending and you’re checking, eventually your skill takes over at some point and we’ve been fortunate the last couple springs we’ve been able to rise above whether it’s a close checking game or the high flying, high scoring game.”
Point’s first-period strike marked the first time in the series a team scored in the opening frame.
Jaccob Slavin’s sharp-angled snipe gave Carolina a two-goal cushion that appeared to have turned the series around, with the Lightning facing the possibility of seeing the series tied 2-2.
Then something curious happened: Rod Brind’Amour’s boys forgot the golden rule when facing Tampa.
Don’t take penalties.
All told the visitors took five in the period, including several bad ones.
Kucherov’s strike with Jake Bean in the box sparked the crowd and the bench, as part of a three-point effort from the playoff scoring leader whose club finished the night 3-of-6 on a power play now operating at 41 per cent this spring.
A roof job by fourth line luxury Johnson was followed by another Stamkos power play goal before the second period ended with the hosts up 5-4.
“To be honest he may have taken the game over,” said Cooper of Kucherov, whose early third-period goal gave the Lightning a 3-1 series stranglehold.
“There was a point in the second period we clearly lost control and he had been hit in a tough manner by one of their guys and he just channelled all his energy in the right way. It was a 5-on-5 shift and he was just a beast out there. Then we had our power play opportunities and he was just making plays all over the place. I thought he might have been the best player on the ice tonight, and when Kuch is doing some of the things he was doing tonight he’s borderline unstoppable.
“It was great to see him do what he did tonight because we definitely needed him.”
What Carolina needed was some goaltending, as Game 3 hero Petr Mrazek definitely played like he’d had only one start in almost a month, stopping just 20 of 26 shots.
Expect rookie sensation Alex Nedeljkovic to start Game 5 in Raleigh Tuesday.
And expect discipline to be top of mind for the Hurricanes, or this series ends in five.