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Lightning overcome frustration to defeat Hurricanes 5-4

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Tyler Johnson secured his third career hat-trick and the game-winning goal to help Tampa Bay defeat the Carolina Hurricanes

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Some evenings the calls aren’t going to go your way, and you have to just suck it up and keep playing. That was the case this evening as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 5-4 in a game that can only be described as frustrating.

The first five minutes of the opening frame would provide a microcosm of how the game would be. Ryan Callahan was called for tripping 2:18 into the period and the Lightning penalty kill—which was very good on the recent road trip—went to work.

Brock McGinn opened the scoring 3:32 into the first period as he was allowed to stand in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy and tip in a cross-crease pass. The same issue that haunted the Lightning during the Flyers game reared its head once again. A man down low uncovered for an easy tap-in.

It took the Lightning a few more minutes to get going, but once they managed to get some offensive momentum going the ice became tilted. At 10:02 Victor Hedman sniped one past Cam Ward to tie the game at one. The goal displayed why Tampa Bay is so dangerous in transition.

Nikita Kucherov received a backhand pass from Steven Stamkos at the Lightning blueline. Kucherov proceeded to race through the neutral zone and enter the Carolina defensive zone. Hedman slid behind Kucherov as the Russian winger glided towards the upper slot where he laid a drop pass to the towering Swede. Hedman corraled the puck quickly and immediately fired it on net where it bounced off Ward’s glove, the post, and over the goal line to give the Lightning the tying goal.

A recurring theme of the opening period was erratic play in the defensive zone and a little over two minutes after Hedman had tied the game Carolina capitalized on a turnover to regain the lead. Yanni Gourde recovered a loose puck along the left wing boards and tried to feed a pass to Brayden Point. The pass bounced off Point’s stick and onto Sebastian Aho’s stick. Aho immediately fired it towards the net and the shot got past Vasilevskiy to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead. Vasilevskiy got a piece of this one, but I have a feeling he wanted that one back.

Aside from defensive mistakes the Lightning controlled the first period at even strength and pushed the Hurricanes into their zone repeatedly. Their forecheck and offensive pressure finally paid off at 16:26 as a point shot from Anton Stralman was deflected by Tyler Johnson and past Cam Ward to tie the game for the second time.

The remaining three minutes of the first period saw Tampa Bay control play, but neither team managed to create anything dangerous as the period came to a close even at two goals apiece.

During the intermission, I had this to say.

The second period saw Tampa Bay come out much more aggressive than how they started the first one and the following sequence produced one of the weirder goals we’ve seen this season.

Brayden Point carried the puck up the right wing boards inside the Carolina zone before lobbing a pass to Jake Dotchin. Dotchin fired it on net but hit the post. The puck ricocheted towards the left of Ward to Tyler Johnson. Johnson settled the puck down and tried to cram it past Ward, but was stoned on his first attempt.

During this event, Johnson was getting checked by a Carolina forward which caused him to fall. Johnson’s initial attempt on goal bounced towards him as he was on his back. Being the crafty diminutive forward that he is Johnson swiped at the puck on his back and managed to get it past a scrambling Ward to give the Lightning their first lead of the game—and his second goal of the evening.

In real-time, this goal happened in a matter of seconds, and it was equally puzzling since the second attempt Johnson made wasn’t clean. However, teams will take goals wherever they can get them.

Unfortunately, Carolina was given another power-play—their second of the period and third of the game—due to a cross-checking penalty by Braydon Coburn.

The penalty kill had looked solid during their earlier kill from a too many men on the ice infraction, however, the Lightning allowed an opposing forward to make a tent in front of Vasilevskiy and blocked his vision of a Justin Faulk shot. Faulk’s shot made it past Vasilevskiy who never saw it. There was a lot of groaning at this point about the officiating being skewed in Carolina’s favor, and there was some justification to that train of thought. A tripping call was missed at the Lightning blueline when Stralman was taken down, and there were a few iffy no calls on some slashings. Nonetheless, the Lightning moved forward.

To illustrate how this game was I’ll show you guys two pictures of some graphs.

hockeystats.ca

The picture above shows the shot share (Corsi For %) in all situations between Tampa Bay and Carolina. It’s rather close here. Making one think this is a tightly contested game. Well, one could argue it was, however, when Carolina’s pressure from power-plays (and the Lightning’s lack thereof) are removed you get the following.

hockeystats.ca

Like I mentioned earlier, at even strength the Lightning were working the Hurricanes through 40 minutes.

Tampa Bay’s special teams were again the focal point of the Lightning’s struggles this evening.

The third period provided a much different game compared to the previous 40 minutes though. Carolina came out more aggressive on the forecheck and hemmed the Lightning in their zone for prolonged periods of time. If not for some timely clears and saves by Vasilevskiy the Lightning could’ve found themselves in a hole.

Neither team managed to completely control the last frame of the game. Instead, both teams traded control with the other and aside from some odd-man breaks, this game looked as if it could go to overtime. Especially after a controversial goal overturn.

I won’t go into detail here about the overturned goal or the weird moment where the puck appeared to have slipped under the net after a Carolina player fell on the puck. I’ll discuss these later in the recap.

As upset as the Lightning were about the overturned goal—and the lack of penalties on Carolina—they continued to play their game. It finally paid off at 9:27 when Jake Dotchin fired a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that made it past a partially screened Ward.

As the first half of the third period went so did the latter half. Neither team really dictated play. They traded offensive zone time and both defenses and goaltenders made impressive plays to negate scoring chances.

That is until Tyler Johnson did Tyler Johnson things.

I’ll just leave this here.

Basically, Tyler Johnson and Noah Hanifin were racing for a puck that was thrown down the ice. Johnson and Hanifin got tangled up, but Johnson managed to get beneath Hanifin and stick lift him. This caused Hanifin to lose his balance and fall. Johnson recovered the puck in between his legs and lifted it past Ward to give the Lightning a much-needed insurance goal and his third career hat-trick.

I tweeted it out, but instead of embedding it, I’m just going to say it again.

Tyler “effing” Johnson’s resurgence this past month has been an absolute joy to watch.

Apprehension struck shortly after Johnson’s late third-period goal as Stamkos was penalized for delay of game. The penalty kill had been troublesome this evening and Carolina pulled their goaltender to give themselves a 6-on-4 advantage. Luckily, Tampa Bay’s penalty kill came through on this attempt.

Carolina managed to score shortly after the penalty expired as Elias Lindholm managed to tip one past Vasilevskiy at 18:42. The remaining minute saw Carolina keep the puck in the Lightning zone with their goaltender pulled. The Hurricanes managed to create two dangerous chances but were turned aside by Vasilevskiy.

It wasn’t pretty, and at times it felt like Tampa Bay was battling the Hurricanes and the officials, but they managed to close out Carolina to secure their 31st win of the season.

The Good

Tyler “effing” Johnson (and the Point line)

Jon Cooper shuffled the lines up last game to try and shake some of the supposed “entitlement” he mentioned after the team laid an egg in Ottawa. I’m not a big fan of Kunitz on the top line, but it was interesting that Point’s line stayed intact. With Johnson and Ondrej Palat flanking him this line was a massive thorn in Carolina’s side all evening. The Stamkos line had their opportunities, but the driving force for Tampa Bay’s offense tonight was the Point line.

I don’t think enough can be said of Johnson’s resurgence over the past month. He has been nothing short of incredible. Kucherov and Stamkos have gotten the headlines this season, but Johnson definitely deserves some love. His December was probably the best month of hockey he’s ever produced (from a points perspective). His move to wing seems to have given him some life after a rather lackluster first quarter of the season.

Keep giving me this kind of Tyler Johnson. Especially once the playoffs come around.

Also, if Brayden Point is this good in the regular season I can’t wait to see how much he elevates himself in the postseason.

The Bad

Penalty Kill Woes Return

The Philadelphia game saw the Lightning penalty kill get throttled in a 5-3 loss. Tampa Bay bounced back afterward and didn’t allow a power-play goal in five straight games. The struggles apparently were behind them.

Then Carolina came to town. I didn’t like the goals Tampa allowed on the penalty kill. They were both the result of not clearing out the front of the crease. McGinn was uncovered when he scored and Elias Lindholm was probably getting ready to check in for a second night at the Marriott with how long he was in front of Vasilevskiy on Faulk’s goal.

It’s more than likely a blip on the radar, but it is frustrating to see the same error come up repeatedly. We shall see what they address before Calgary arrives Thursday.

The Whatever

Puck in the Net and Goal Overturned

So, first I’ll talk about that weird moment when the puck went under a Carolina player at the side of the net and then it went it. From the replay, I couldn’t really tell what exactly happened. At first, I thought the Carolina player had accidentally lifted the net when he made contact and the puck just slid that way. After looking at it again I’m not entirely sure. I didn’t disagree with the call about it, but I was just perplexed as to what happened on that play. If any of you got a better look at it (I was writing this recap and following the game so I only briefly looked at the replay) please let me know what you all say.

The overturned goal.

Jon Cooper said during the post-game press conference that they were simply told it was offside. He suggested Toronto must have had a different angle that they didn’t since nothing from their angles indicated it was offside.

My opinion? I don’t think it was conclusive. Sure, you could make an argument, but the NHL has harped on the whole “conclusive evidence” point since they implemented replay a few seasons ago (try not to get angry about a certain offsides call in the playoffs....TRY NOT TO GET ANGRY ABOUT IT) and this one seemed iffy to me. What do you all think?

Highlights