The Tampa Bay Lightning saved their best for last.
Attempting to fight off elimination for the third straight game, the Lightning did just that Wednesday night.
Sean Bergenheim’s third goal of the postseason was all it took for Tampa Bay to complete a comeback from being down three games to one, as it took Wednesday’s winner-take-all Game 7 contest by a 1-0 score over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center.
The Lightning improved to 3-0-0 all-time in elimination games, while Pittsburgh fell to 0-6-0 on the brink of elimination in the Dan Bylsma era. Just as well, Tampa Bay also became just the 24th team in NHL history to win a series after finding itself in a 3-1 hole.
“We laid it all on the line and did what we had to do to win a hockey game,” Lightning net minder Dwayne Roloson said. “That included sticking to our game plan.”
Following a scoreless first period, it was still hard to tell which side would eventually break through first. The evidence, at least early on, pointed to Pittsburgh, who controlled the pace of play to open the game as it outshot the Lightning 15-7 through the first 20 minutes.
“I thought we stepped up on them pretty well in that first period, but they were definitely shooting a lot on us which made it difficult,” Lightning assistant coach Martin Raymond said.
Bergenheim opened the scoring with a quick wrist shot 5:41 into the second after taking a back-door feed from linemate Dominic Moore. The goal resembled an identical replica of the pair’s hookup in Game 4 when Moore delivered a no-look feed to Bergenheim, who snuck behind Fleury for his first of the postseason.
“It was a great play by Mooresy,” Bergenheim said. “He did a great job bringing the puck in and he does it so well. I have to credit that goal to him.”
Tampa Bay will now face the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The second-round bout is the Lightning’s first since it swept the Montreal Canadiens in four straight games during the 2004 postseason.
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury bounced back from two subpar outings in Games 5 and 6 to make 22 saves, but it wasn't enough against the flawless Roloson.
The Penguins had a chance to tie it in the final 1:33 of the third period on the power play after Nate Thompson was called for slashing. They pulled Fleury and played 6-on-4, but failed to find the back of the net despite an aggressive forecheck in their offensive zone. Their power play went 0-for-5 in the game and finished a lackluster 1-for-35 in the series.
Roloson was on point the entire night. He set the tone early by stopping all 15 shots faced in the opening 20 minutes and made perhaps his best save in the closing minutes of the first as he denied Jordan Staal out in front with his blocker.
“It was just another win for me,” Roloson said. “I’m going to enjoy it, but tomorrow we have to focus on what’s next.”
The Penguins entered the game as the team with far more familiarity playing in Game 7s, boasting 57 games worth of experience on their roster compared to the Lightning’s 21. They failed, however, to generate a lot of good scoring chances, but did come on strong in the final five minutes. Other than the late surge, their hopes rested on what appeared to be a goal that was afterwards waved off due to incidental contact.
But Lightning players said heading into this contest that they gained enough experience in that area by winning two straight elimination games in this series. In the end, that was enough.
“He was huge in net for us ever since he arrived,” defenseman Mattias Ohlund said of Roloson. “He brings a lot of experience and inspiration to this hockey club.”
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