— -- PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Their starting goaltender, one of the best of the business, was taken off the ice on a stretcher midway through the first period.
Their top center was the subject of a jarring knee-on-knee hit and temporarily left the game.
They were playing arguably the hottest team in the playoffs in their home building.
And they pretty much stink in Game 1.
Sounds like the playoff stars weren't exactly lining up for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But not so fast.
Instead, the Lightning stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins, previously 5-1 at home in the playoffs, by a 3-1 count Friday night and announced in the wake of a peculiar, sometimes nasty game, that they are not to be ignored in their bid for back-to-back Stanley Cup finals berths.
"Game 1's always huge," said Tyler Johnson as he headed for the Lightning bus late Friday night, limping noticeably thanks to a questionable knee-on-knee hit late in the first period courtesy of the Penguins' Chris Kunitz.
"We haven't done as well as what we'd like. I think we've been talking about it a lot; we wanted to get a better start, especially being on the road, especially being against a good team against Pittsburgh. You can't really just mail in a game against them; we had to come out hot and I thought we did that."
The Lightning entered Friday night's game 2-4 in Game 1s, dating back to last year's playoffs. Friday night marked a positive departure from that trend and it came in spite of the fact Vezina Trophy nominee Ben Bishop was taken from the Consol Energy Center ice on a stretcher with 7:35 left in the first period of a scoreless game after seemingly catching his skate near one goal post and falling awkwardly in his crease.
Head coach Jon Cooper said that x-rays came back negative -- "Nothing structurally wrong, which is a relief" -- and that while Bishop was clearly injured -- he was grabbing at his lower left leg and writhing in pain on the ice -- they are hoping for the best for arguably their best player during the regular season and into the playoffs.
"It's one of those moments where he's been so great for us, and no one knew what was happening," said Lightning forward Alex Killorn, who scored the first goal of the game with less than two minutes to go in the first period. "No one knew what was wrong with him. And for him to get carted off like that, it's typically pretty serious. But I just went up to him and said, 'We got this.'"
As emotionally jarring as it was to see a close friend and teammate leave the game on a stretcher, the Lightning refocused and denied a Penguin team that entered the conference finals with the most potent offense in the playoffs.