Going into Game 4 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Pens had a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final. Just looking at the scores, the series appeared to be very close, as Pittsburgh had scored eight goals, while the Lightning had scored seven.
But the shot differential was a different story. Going into the game Friday night, the Pens had out-shot the Bolts by a whopping 124-69 margin.
The Pens obviously dominated in that category, as well as being able to force a number of ill-timed turnovers by the Lightning. Add to that, the Bolts were not coming up with the puck in the corners or the boards very often and their puck possession was definitely below their usual standards.
If the Lightning were going to change those things in Game 4, something had to give. Enter Ryan Callahan. Callahan talked to Pierre McGuire of NBCSN before the game and he acknowledged to McGuire that the Bolts had to get more physical and aggressive.
Callahan put his money where his mouth was very early in Friday night’s game. No. 24 tipped a shot by Victor Hedman just 27 seconds into the game for a goal and a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay.
The goal by Callahan electrified the crowd at Amalie Arena, as well as his teammates.
“You heard the building,” the also physical Brian Boyle said of Callahan’s goal.
“That’s the start we needed,” head coach Jon Cooper said.
Callahan wasn’t done. He battled hard along the boards. He scrummed with aggression in the corners. He stood out once again on the penalty-kill team. He hit anything that moved in a Pittsburgh jersey.
Just ask Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, who Callahan put on his keester after a hard check in the defensive zone of the Penguins. That check also forced a rare turnover by No. 71.
Or ask Trevor Daley of the Pens. Callahan hit Daley hard with a clean and legal check into the boards in the second period of the game. Daley had to be helped off the ice with a lower-body injury and was never able to come back into the game.
Callahan was a one-man wrecking crew for the Bolts.
“I go to the dirty areas,” Callahan said.
That you do, Ryan. That you do. And your teammates know it too.
“Playing against him for many years, (I’m) obviously happy to have him on (my) team now,” Hedman said. “He lays it on the line every night. That’s what you need on a winning team … just great energy.”
That energy propelled the Lightning to a 4-0 lead, as Callahan was joined by Andrej Sustr, Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Johnson in scoring a goal.
Everyone seemed to be getting involved in the scoring. Hedman, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov all had two assists. Ondrej Palat and J.T. Brown each had one.
But it was all started by Callahan.
When things started to get a little frisky in the game when Kris Letang flicked a puck at Drouin after the whistle blew, Boyle went after Letang to give the proper response. As in, the Bolts will have none of that.
The Bolts had a 4-0 lead going into the third period and had out-shot the Penguins by a 30-22 margin.
Then head coach Mike Sullivan of the Pens made a goalie switch. He put in Marc-Andre Fleury in place of rookie Matt Murray. It was Fleury’s first appearance since March 31.
His appearance in the game definitely sparked the Pens, as they out-shot the Bolts by a 16-7 margin in the period and scored three unanswered goals. Still, the Bolts hung on to a 4-3 win, as goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was very impressive once again with some key saves late in the game.
Bottom line, the Bolts had evened the series at 2-2 and the Bolts had found their identity again.
The Lightning were shown who they were by Callahan and his all-around performance in the game.
“You can’t say enough about Ryan Callahan and his positive effect on our team,” Cooper said.
Callahan gets to lead by example again on Sunday night, as the Bolts take on the Pens in Game 5 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.