TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning are known as a goal-scoring, offensive juggernaut. Why not? They have Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point lighting up the scoreboard.
But the Bolts' success all starts on the defensive end, with gritty players like defensemen Erik Cernak and David Savard.
Savard returned in the lineup in Game 4 after missing the first three games of the series with an upper-body injury. Head coach Jon Cooper said Savard’s presence was felt.
“He’s a steady presence there for us,” Cooper said. “He penalty kills, he finishes plays down low, he blocks shots. We didn’t bring him in here to score goals, we brought him in here to help prevent them.”
Savard came to Tampa Bay in a late-season trade with Columbus.
“It’s not easy to sit out in the playoffs,” Savard said of missing time this series. “It’s never fun. I was just trying to keep it simple, trying to be physical.”
Speaking of being physical, Cernak recorded nine hits in game three and picked up an assist in the 6-4 Game 4 victory giving Tampa Bay a 3-1 series lead.
“He’s been a rock since we got him,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He keeps taking steps, he’s tough to play against. Those hits are proof of that.”
“He plays a man’s game,” Cooper added. “He can skate, he’s got skill. But, he’s a physical presence. When you can kill plays like he can, when you can transition pucks, he’s just a valuable part for us.”
Game 4’s four goals against may have been a one-off for this Lightning defense. They look to clamp down and win the series Tuesday night in Raleigh, N.C.