The Lightning had a couple of lineup changes for the game Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. Jason Garrison took warm ups, but must have still been feeling ill and was scratched from the lineup.
J.T. Brown returned from his presumed concussion suffered against Philadelphia on a head shot from Wayne Simmonds, and took the open spot on Tyler Johnson’s line. With coach Jon Cooper going back to six defensemen after going with seven against Arizona, Luke Witkowski was scratched, with Jake Dotchin remaining in the lineup. The last change was Andrei Vasilevskiy starting in net.
The lines to start the game were as follows:
Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin
Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - J.T. Brown
Ondrej Palat - Vladislav Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov
Michael Bournival - Cedric Paquette - Gabriel Dumont
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Nikita Nesterov - Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn - Jake Dotchin
The first four minutes of the period had a fairly slow pace to start, with only two shots on goal, both coming from Chicago. Dotchin got called for hooking former Bolt Richard Panik as he was attempting to go around the net. The Lightning were solid their first time shorthanded and only allowed two shots on goal while blocking several other shot attempts.
The first goal of the game came off of a defensive zone turnover from the Lightning defense. They failed to clear the zone twice. The first time the defense had disrupted a Blackhawks rush but promptly turned the puck over in their own zone. The Blackhawks got a shot that Vasilevskiy stopped. The puck went into the corner and the Lightning gained control of the puck.
Hedman passed the puck towards Nesterov and missed him. Nesterov chased the puck at an odd angle and allowed Hartman to spin away from him with the puck leaving Hedman alone defending in front. This allowed the Blackhawks to tic-tac-toe the puck around to Panik at the bottom of the right wing circle. Panik passed the puck back to the front of the goal where Jonathan Toews was battling with Hedman. Toews tapped the puck and it dribbled in to the net behind Vasilevskiy giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.
Minutes later, Nesterov again turned the puck over and then took a hooking call in the ensuing scramble giving the Blackhawks their second power play of the game. Prior to the whistle being blown on the delayed penalty, Vasilevskiy had to come up big moving across to stop an Artemi Panarin one timer from the left wing circle.
Early in the penalty kill, Johnson made a great move with the puck to create a two-on-one chance for Killorn. Killorn got the shot off after taking Johnson’s pass and could not get it past Crawford or create a rebound.
A scrum ensued on the next shift as Hedman had his stick knocked out of his hands. After Vasilevskiy froze the puck on a glove save, Hedman turned and gave Marian Hossa a little shove. Hossa slashed him on the back of the legs and a scrum ensued. The Lightning players and coaches were unhappy at the lack of a penalty call on the slash of Hedman’s stick. Paquette must have been yapping a little too much to the referees and received a ten minute misconduct. That did not result in the Lightning going down another player on the penalty kill. The Lightning succeeded in killing off the penalty.
Drouin continued to create highlights by making three Blackhawks forwards looking foolish as he took the puck from his own zone all the way down to get a backhand shot on goal that Crawford stopped. Kucherov and Palat teamed up for a give and go the next shift that got Kucherov the puck point blank in front of the goal behind the defense. Crawford was able to get his shoulder on the puck and deflect it out of play.
With a little over a minute and a half to go in the first period, Filppula gathered the puck in his own zone. He moved the puck up and found Brian Boyle with a pass up the middle. Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson got caught flat footed and allowed Boyle to charge up the middle. They then got caught staring at the puck as Boyle made his move.
Boyle put on the power move by dekeing the puck out to the right like he was going to backhand the puck. Crawford bit on it and Boyle pulled the puck back across on his forehand and slid the puck home behind Crawford to complete the power move. Boyle’s goal tied it up at 1-1 with the lone assist going to Filppula.
One of the interesting tidbits of the first period is that the Blackhawks regularly sent out the Artem Anisimov line with Panarin out against the Namestnikov line with Kucherov. It made it two Russians and an American against two Russians and a Czech throughout the first period and the game.
The Blackhawks came out with some good pressure early in the second period. The Namestnikov line got caught in their zone for a long period unable to clear the puck. The Lightning managed to block a couple shots, but three shots came in quick succession ending with a Duncan Keith point shot that beat Vasilevskiy cleanly putting the Blackhawks back on top 2-1.
The Filppula line with Kucherov taking a shift in Drouin’s spot turned the tables on the Blackhawks during the next shift with the Lightning getting four shots on goal of their own on the sequence. Crawford came up big against the line and kept the puck out of the net.
The Lightning finally got their first power play of the game as Dumont got high sticked behind the net on another great shift by the fourth line. Through the first half of the power play, the Lightning had a one-timer from Kucherov go wide of the net and a point shot from Hedman deflected and just dribble wide of the net behind Crawford. The rest of the power play was rather benign as the second unit couldn’t get the puck into the zone and set up. The Lightning didn’t get a shot on goal during the power play.
After the power play, the control of play went back and forth with both teams having extended shifts in the offensive zone. The shots on goal remained fairly even. With 7:37 to go in the period, Killorn got a hand on Toews as he was falling and took him down on the back check. The holding minor gave the Blackhawks their third power play of the game. The Blackhawks dominated the offensive zone getting four shots on goal. The Lightning somehow kept it out as Stralman and Hedman were stuck on ice for the entirety of the penalty kill due to an inability to clear the puck.
The Lightning created an amazing chance with a few minutes left in the period. Dotchin passed the puck up to the red line right on to Filppula’s stick. Filppula entered the zone and dropped the puck back to Drouin while going towards the net with a moving pick on the defender. Boyle was coming late and Drouin passed it back to him in the slot. Boyle leaned in to the puck for a one timer forcing Crawford to react quickly to stretch across and stop the puck.
The Lightning could not muster a goal during the second period and the Lightning went to the locker room down 2-1 after two periods.
With the Lightning needing an equalizing goal early in the third, Nesterov came up big to make up for his earlier mistake that led to a goal. Boyle took the faceoff in the left wing circle and won it cleanly straight back. Nesterov wound up and blasted the puck far side past Crawford’s outstretched pad and glove. The goal tied the game up at 2-2 2:47 into the period. Boyle had the lone assist on the goal.
The Lightning got some help a few minutes later as the Blackhawks got a two-on-one. Scmaltz came down the right wing side and took a wrist shot on goal from the top of the circle. Vasilevskiy got a piece of the puck and it bounced off the post.
The Blackhawks eased up after the puck hit the post and the horn started to blow. Killorn worked his way down the ice with the puck while they were distracted. With the Lightning changing behind him, he delayed in the offensive zone and drew in the three Blackhawks defenders. He dropped the puck off for Johnson. Johnson curled around into the right wing circle and wristed the puck far side past Crawford to take the lead for the first time in the game 3-2. Killorn and Filppula had assists on the goal.
Lightning struck again 30 seconds later. After their goal, the Johnson line remained on the ice for the ensuing faceoff. Killorn stole the puck and passed it to himself off the boards as he charged into the offensive zone. He gathered the puck behind the defesne and backhanded the puck on goal. Crawford stopped it and Killorn collected the puck behind the net. He moved around and found Johnson in front of the net for Johnson to tap the puck in past Crawford. Lightning expanded their lead to 4-2 with Killorn having the lone assist.
With the lead, the Lightning tried their best to not let off the gas pedal and the play continued as it had for most of the period with back and forth chances. Dotchin had a great poke check to deny Hartman from driving the net. Hartman got caught for a hooking seconds later sending the Lightning to only their second power play of the game.
The Blackhawks played the early part of the power play well that included a shorthanded break away. Killorn got back and disrupted the play enough to allow Vasilevskiy to poke the puck away. The Blackhawks got three shorthanded rushes during the penalty kill with the first one being the most dangerous of the three. The Lightning didn’t get much of anything going on the power play and the Blackhawks successfully killed off the penalty.
With just over three minutes on the clock and a faceoff in the Lightning’s zone coming out of a commercial break, the Blackhawks pulled Crawford for the extra attacker. Hedman iced the puck early in the sequence and was about nine inches from getting a empty net, 200 foot goal. Vasilevskiy came up with two big saves early on as well despite being screened out in front.
Just over a minute into the empty net play, Kucherov came up big with two plays. Kucherov deflected a pass out to the point. Duncan Keith kept the puck in for a moment, but allowed Kucherov to steal the puck and pull it out of the zone. Then behind the defense, Kucherov skated down the ice for the easy empty net goal to put the Lightning up 5-2. Crawford then returned to the net and would remain there for the remainder of the game.
Feels good to finally put together a convincing win against a good team. My three stars on the night are Johnson, Killorn, and Vasilevskiy. Honorable mentions go to Boyle and Filppula. Johnson, Killorn, Boyle, and Filppula ended up with two points a piece on the night. The media’s three stars were Johnson, Boyle, and Toews. Not a surprise that Toews with a goal and an assist and minus-2 got a gift star from the Chicago media.
The Lightning trailed for about 29 minutes in the game. They finally came alive in the third period with Johnson and Killorn teaming up for two of the four goals in the third period. The Lightning didn’t let the early goals from the Blackhawks daunt them. They continued to play hard and most of the game it felt like it was a very back and forth affair with both teams getting plenty of chances.
Dotchin had 15:00 time on ice and impressed with his play. He kept his play fairly simple and did his best to keep the puck in front of him, though he did get caught early in the game with a hooking penalty. He had pretty good success on his break outs and included a long stretch pass that led to a grade A chance for Boyle on the other end. He also showed a willingness to put the puck towards the net when he had a lane to fire the puck. He has a heavy shot, but needs to adjust his sights a little bit and have a little more accuracy for his shot to be dangerous.
Can’t say enough about how well Vasilevskiy played tonight. He limited rebounds when he could. He got lucky with a post or two. The two goals he allowed weren’t soft goals. The point shot from Keith for the second goal was very similar to the goal that Crawford allowed to Nesterov. And the first goal he was the victim of the defense’s inability to clear the puck twice.
Now the Lightning will come back to Florida with a stop in Sunrise on Thursday before they can finally return home after almost two weeks on the road. They’ll also get a break over the weekend to rest up during the All-Star Break, except for Hedman and Kucherov who will head back to Los Angeles to take part in the festivities. The next home game will be Tuesday, January 31st against the Boston Bruins, one of the teams they are chasing in the standings.
The Lightning are still in dire straits as far as their playoff chances go. Eight of their next 12 games come across Western Conference opponents. Getting points in those games will be important to make up ground and put them in position to leap frog teams over the final part of the schedule.
But even more important will be winning in regulation whenever they are playing against teams in the Eastern Conference they are chasing. Every time they go to overtime against such an opponent, they are losing out on moving up the standings by giving the opponent a point even if the Lightning win.
It remains to be seen if Yzerman will make a move to bolster the blue line. The Lightning do have time to show that they can right the ship and they’ll need to do it quickly. Some reinforcements up front are on the way as Point is expected back in the next week or so and Stamkos is still expected back in mid-March.
If the way the team played in the third period is truly a sign of the team turning it around, then we should be in for an exciting ride to the trade deadline. If it’s just a blip in the mediocrity we’ve been seeing, then Yzerman should be a seller at the deadline. Hold on to your hats folks, either way we go, it’s going to be a wild ride.