With the race at the top of the Eastern Conference tightening every day, banking points is always important -- even on tough, west-coast road swings.
For the most part the Lightning held their own in the first period; San Jose was content to match strength vs. strength with Logan Couture's unit handling Tyler Johnson and co. and Joe Thornton getting the Steven Stamkos assignment. Neither team was able to generate a significant advantage at even strength, but a long breakout pass from the San Jose end did result in a hooking penalty to Ryan Callahan on Joe Pavelski and an opportunity for the Shark's strong man advantage unit.
San Jose moved the puck well on the power play and forced Ben Bishop to come up a few good saves, but ultimately failed to convert. Tampa Bay countered drawing a penalty of their own, a high a stick that sent Luke Witkowski to the bench holding his face, and didn't even need the power play officially. Steven Stamkos blasted a slap shot through Antti Niemi at 6v5 for a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead late in the first period.
Tampa Bay went to work quickly in the beautiful shot by Callahan on the right dot was tipped by Alex Killorn over Niemi's right shoulder for a 2-0 lead off a cross-slot pass from Steven Stamkos, this time against the Couture line instead of Joe Thornton's.
Jonathan Drouin followed that goal up by nearly scoring himself, hitting both posts with a shot from near the left half-wall. At the other end, Ben Bishop returned to 2013-14 form, stonewalling a handful of great chances for San Jose including Tomas Hertl on a 2-on-1. Logan Couture did get the Sharks on the board on a nice shot from the slot. Tampa looked to rotate too quickly to the puck leaving the slot open for a streaking Couture to make it 2-1, with the assist to Matt Nieto.
The Sharks continued pushing late in the 2nd period with a good transition game and cycle game, but Ben Bishop turned everything away including a couple late chances for Brent Burns.
Just 10 seconds into the third period Ondrej Palat extended the Lightning lead to 3-1 with an unassisted goal; a harmless play in the offensive zone saw the puck bouncing all over the place somehow, ending up behind Niemi and giving the Bolts some breathing room to work with in the third.
They'd need it soon after, with Jonathan Drouin heading to the box for interference putting the strong San Jose power play back to work to try and draw back within a goal. This time, however, the Bolts' penalty kill handled the man advantage, clearing pucks and forcing San Jose to a perimeter passing game. The Sharks didn't register a shot on the power play and Tampa Bay started to clamp down defensively with a conservative gameplan holding a two-goal lead on the road ahead of another road tilt about 24 hours into the future.
Unfortunately, the Lightning couldn't stay out of the box. An ill-advised high stick from Nikita Kucherov put the Sharks on the power play once again and they finally cashed in on a high-slot redirect from Brent Burns to bring the home team back within a goal with over 8 minutes remaining.
Hope for San Jose to draw even would quickly vanish, however, as Cedric Paquette got his 12th of the year on the rush from Valtteri Filppula to wrap it up. Ryan Callahan added the empty netter for a 5-2 final, and the Lightning started off this California gauntlet with two points.
- The victory marked the first time the Tampa Bay Lightning have won at San Jose's home rink in 12 years. (!!!)
- After an interesting conversation this morning led to some good discussion about shot quality, scoring chances, and goaltending, Ben Bishop was fantastic in net for the Lightning stopping 33/35 shots faced (.943 SV%) including a half a dozen prime scoring chances, several of which came on the rush or off costly turnovers near the Lighnting blue line. It might be only for one night but Ben Bishop turned in a vintage 2013-14 season performance here and it was a big difference maker -- don't let the final score fool you.
- With another game looming on the schedule on Monday in Los Angeles, Jon Cooper did a good job of managing his bench late. Only two forwards eclipsed 18 minutes of ice time (Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson) and only Victor Hedman saw more than 23 minutes for defensemen. Theoretically, the team should be as well-rested as possible in a back-to-back situation, especially considering the San Jose game started at 5:00 PM local time.
- The Sharks did a fairly good job neutralizing the Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov trio with a balance of the Joe Thornton and Logan Couture lines, but the Steven Stamkos unit stepped up with a pair of goals and a healthy puck possession advantage. Tampa Bay continues to be a balanced team capable of relying on different combinations and contributions to get a win.
- A fun moment near the end of the game -- Marc-Edouard Vlasic cross-checking Jonathan Drouin, 5, 6, 7 times with Drouin staying on his feet. One quick retaliation from the 19-year old put the Sharks' defenseman on his butt.