The Tampa Bay Lightning are 3-0 against the Detroit Red Wings this season.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The move to the newly formed Atlantic Division was one that had almost every pundit predicting a rocky year for the Bolts. But after another solid performance at the Joe, the Bolts are now 3-0 against their new division rival and have already claimed the season series from the Red Wings.
Both teams got off to a quick start as Joakim Andersson skated in on Ben Bishop off a long entry pass that came to him off the boards in stride and was able to fire a quick backhander off Bishop's pads for the game's first shot on goal and first scoring chance. The Lightning answered almost right away with a terrific chance of their own as Ondrej Palat found Tyler Johnson alone in the slot. Johnson danced around rookie netminder Petr Mrazek, but missed the net on an attempt from near the goal line with Mrazek out of position.
The Lightning got a gift from the referees just minutes into the game when Gustav Nyquist buried a rebound of his own backhand shot from the slot but the goal was disallowed because the referee -- on the far side of the play -- had blown the play dead, assuming the puck was covered by Bishop.
The Bolts managed another close call midway through the first when Teddy Purcell skated down the wing and ripped a hard wrister off the crossbar, beating Mrazek cleanly but failing to find twine. For now, "snakebit" is still spelled "T-E-D-D-Y" but the goals will come if he continues to shoot like that.
The Bolts escaped a few more scares to end the period, one with 6:55 remaining in the first when a Tomas Tatar shot entered the Lightning net a split second after a whistle for offsides was blown. It was unclear whether Bishop knew he play was offsides or not, though he appeared to let up on the play rather than moving to stop the shot. The Red Wings followed that with a Pavel Datsyuk wrister that ringed off the post after his initial attempt was blocked right back to his stick in stride in the slot.
The Bolt weren't starved for chances themselves, however, as Petr Mrazek was tested early and often. He made a terrific save in tight on Richard Panik off a brilliant feed by Nikita Kucherov, who deftly stickhandled through the slot in a near-Datsyukian fashion before feeding Panik at the goalmouth. Panik failed to lift the puck enough over the outstretched pad of Mrazek, keeping the score tied at 0-0.
The second period saw the game's first penalty as Tyler Johnson was called for hooking in the offensive zone barely two minutes in, putting the Lightning penalty kill to work to try and keep things at a scoreless tie. The Bolts played a sound, disciplined kill in front of Ben Bishop and got back to even strength giving up just one scoring chance at 4v5.
Moments later, Johan Franzen was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after a hit up high behind the Lightning net by (who else) Radko Gudas. Franzen, presumably upset that no penalty was called on the play, broke his stick on the way to the bench and put the Bolts on their first man advantage of the evening. That advantage was bolstered by a too many men call against Detroit with :22 remaining on the Franzen penalty, but the Lightning came up empty again before Tyler Johnson negated the second call with a high sticking minor of his own as the Lightning powerless play continues to trudge along.
Somehow, in spite of the numerous power play opportunities for both sides, the second period ended just like the first -- with a 0-0 tie, as both goaltenders continued to go save for save heading into the final frame.
The Lightning finally broke through a few minutes into the third after a blown breakout by Tomas Tatar gave Ondrej Palat a free rush down the left wing. He put the puck towards the net looking for Martin St. Louis, but found Tyler Johnson instead, who redirected the puck into a mostly empty net for the game's first goal.
The forecheck came through again for the Lightning later in the period when J.T. Brown finished a centering feed from Nate Thompson after Detroit failed to clear their zone, with Nikita Kucherov pressuring in the corner. That all but put the game away at 2-0 with the way Bishop was playing. Alex Killorn added the insurance marker with an empty netter that didn't actually go into the net directly, but was credited to him after he was pulled down from behind with Mrazek on the bench.
- The trio of Nate Thompson between Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Brown(ov) has, seemingly out of nowhere, become an impressive offensive line for the Bolts. Though Thompson is known more for his defensive acumen, he's shown flashes of offense in the past and has good skating ability compared to many NHL 4th line grind types, as well as the hands to keep pucks alive in transition and in the cycle with guys like Kucherov and Brown. For now, those three are looking more like a traditional second line than a shutdown/grind/energy unit.
- Where were the scouts when Andrej Sustr was draft-eligible? The rangy defensemen's ascension up the depth chart has been impressive to watch this season, and as a regular bottom-pairing defenseman still with fewer than 50 games of professional experience under his belt, he's been a godsend for the oft-injured Lightning blue line, especially in games like tonight when Jon Cooper elects to dress seven defensemen. Keeping on track and not hitting the dreaded "rookie wall" (or "sophomore slump" next year) will be key, but he was making plays all night long, including an impressive zone exit, entry, and scoring chance on one coast-to-coast glide where he nearly covered the entire 200 foot sheet of ice in just a few strides.
- Teddy Purcell's goalpost shot in the first period led to this gem from Detroit broadcaster Ken Daniels: "Purcell just smoked the pipe right there!". I feel like this should be a meme.
- With the win tonight, the Lightning, in 15 fewer games, exceed their mark for both points and wins from last season's 48-game season.
- 15 skaters dressed tonight played in last year's AHL Calder Cup Finals between the Syracuse Crunch (Lightning affiliate) and the Grand Rapids Griffins (Red Wings affiliate), a series won by the Griffins 4 games to 2.