The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Florida Panthers 7-2 in the latest Battle of Florida. With tonight being Thanksgiving Eve in the US, instead of the typical recap, let’s start with a quick game summary and then get into some things that I’m thankful for from tonight’s game.
The game started quickly with both teams scoring on their first shot of the game. The Lightning took the early on a goal by Mathieu Joseph only to give it back minutes later on a shot by Troy Brouwer. The Bolts would retake the lead later in the first period on a power play rocket from Nikita Kucherov and not relinquish it for the remainder of the game.
The Lightning really started to pull away in the second period scoring two more goals and only yielding one to go up 4-2. Yanni Gourde potted the third goal of the game on an easy backdoor dunk after a feed from Steven Stamkos. Adam Erne extended the lead to 4-1 but Aleksander Barkov cut the lead to 4-2 before the end of the period.
In the third, the Lightning finished off the Panthers adding three more goals and only yielding one to win 7-3. Stamkos scored the fifth goal and then two defenders, McDonagh and Girardi, put away the sixth and seventh. On the power play, Florida got one back late when Cedric Paquette deflected a shot from Mike Hoffman that fooled Louis Domingue.
Things I’m Thankful For
The new forward lines
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper made some changes in the top six tonight swapping Nikita Kucherov and Yanni Gourde. I was skeptical before the game but given how things went, I like it. Putting Point and Kucherov on the same line is a terrifying proposition for opposing teams. They didn’t fully find their stride tonight but they will. And when they do, they’ll be a nightmare.
Meanwhile, the new line centered by Steven Stamkos was outrageous. They outshot the Panthers by more than 20 while they were on the ice. That’s an unheard of number. Stamkos had one of his best games of the year scoring a goal and assisting on three others. His all-around offensive game is overwhelming.
He got Yanni Gourde an easy back door dunk on a give and go in the second period.
He also scored one of his own in the third period collecting a rebound and beating Luongo.
Domingue doesn’t have to be great. He just has to be good enough to keep the Lightning in games while Andrei Vasilevskiy is hurt. Tonight, he was plenty better than that. He was solid during a sluggish first period for the Lightning. And most importantly, he did this.
I’m extremely thankful for the pose he strikes at the end of this save. Truly statuesque. If Domingue hangs around league average over the next few weeks and makes a play like that every once in a while, he will have done his more than his part.
Adam Erne’s emergence
Adam Erne has been a revelation this season. After struggling with injuries so much over the last couple years, he’s finally gotten a regular chance in the lineup and he has been outstanding. That continued tonight. He was far and away the best player on his line creating multiple chances for himself and others. He got his just reward with a sweet backhand goal following a shot from the point by Ryan McDonagh that Nikita Kucherov deflected on net.
Mathieu Joseph is a perpetual breakaway machine
One of the best things about this season so far is watching new players every night discover that Mathieu Joseph has a gear that very few players in the league. Tonight, it was Alex Petrovic on the first goal of the night.
The Panthers defender tried to sneak a cheeky pass through Joseph at his own blue line. He failed and the Lightning rookie pounced on the puck. He was three strides past Petrovic before Petrovic even got his feet moving. Joseph beat Luongo and gave the Bolts the lead.
But he wasn’t done after the goal. He had several more breakaway or odd-man chances created mostly by his speed. He wasn’t able to finish them but if he keeps getting looks like that, they’re going to start ending up in the net.
Kuch and Stamkos on the power play
I will never stop being thankful for getting to watch Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on the power play. The passing is sublime. Both have rocket launchers attached to their stick blades. Seeing defenses and goaltenders helplessly try to figure out how to stop these two brings me endless joy.
They didn’t combine directly for a power play goal tonight. Instead, just the presence of Stamkos caused so much consternation for the Panthers that Victor Hedman was able to fake a pass his way and instead go back to Kucherov catching the penalty killers and Luongo leaning the wrong way. And Kucherov buried the shot.
Cernak looking more and more NHL ready
Erik Cernak is getting his first run of NHL games and looking like a surefire future NHLer. He didn’t do anything spectacular tonight but he made lots of good small plays and jumped up into the offense a couple of times. That’s a great sign for a player so early in his career.
On one play in particular, I thought he might get his first goal. Stamkos carried the puck in the right side during a line change. He pulled up below the circle and fed a pass back to Cernak skating in on the rush. The rookie blasted a one-timer but Luongo made the save. Still, it was a nice little play and a positive indication for what might be to come in the future.
Ryan McDonagh. ‘Nuff said.
McDonagh continues to play well. Tonight, he added three points including a late goal on another wonderful pass from Stamkos. The captain hit him backdoor for an easy tap in and McDonagh didn’t miss.
To start the season, he was playing mostly with Anton Stralman and taking all the tough assignments. With Stralman hurt, he’s been shepherding the rookie Cernak through his first NHL experience and doing a great job. McDonagh’s contributions in giving the Lightning a strong second pair to match the top pair anchored by Victor Hedman has been huge.
Marty St. Louis
And finally, I’ll give thanks for Marty St. Louis. I’ll always wish his career in Tampa had the storybook ending but the jersey retirement and hall of fame festivities have pretty much erased any lingering feelings about the way he departed.
He’s the greatest player in franchise history. He elevated the team to a new level of success not just on the ice, but as a viable team in a place where people used to say hockey would never last. He forever changed the perception of the Lightning and for that, I’ll always be thankful. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate him than with a fun 7-2 victory that showcased so much of what he was about as a player.
This was one of the more impressive games for the Lightning in some ways. The Stamkos line was incredible as was the top pairing of Victor Hedman and Dan Girardi. The team was opportunistic and took advantage of the chances they created.
For the rest of the goal highlights, you can go here. The Bolts will be in action next on Friday at home against Chicago.