It took 29 seconds for the Tampa Bay Lightning to establish the pace of tonight’s game. In those 29 seconds, the Chicago Blackhawks looked slow, confused, and outmatched. A dominant first period was all Tampa Bay needed in a 4-2 victory over Chicago this evening. Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov led the way offensivly for the Lightning and Eric Cernak had his first multi-point game of his career. Louis Domingue played well in net, and the Lightning staved off a furious Chicago surge late in the third period to secure the win.
Kucherov made the first goal happen, full stop. He goes from the the defensive zone to the offensive zone before relinquishing the puck. The drop pass to Johnson was nicely done. Then the cross zone pass to Cernak was sharp by Johnson, and then Cernak chipping it back to Kucherov enabled him to find a wide open Johnson in the high slot. Watch how Johnson just slips into the high slot without anyone noticing him. Bad look on Chicago there, but great for Johnson, who fired it past Crawford to give Tampa Bay the 1-0 lead.
Tampa Bay didn’t stop there as they attacked Chicago relentlessly throughout the first period. Shortly after the Johnson goal, Mathieu Joseph ripped one off the post after his line forced a turnover in the neutral zone. The Lightning’s aggression and ability to open the scoring was good to see after an earlier streak in the season saw them concede the first goal in eight of nine games.
Jon Cooper’s mentality on scoring first is that it allows the other team to chase the game instead of the Lightning. There will be games where Tampa Bay doesn’t score first and games where they do. His message is to focus on the process and push forward regardless of the outcome in those situations. It obviously helps when Tampa Bay’s offense clicks like it did this evening.
The pressure that Tampa Bay was applying paid off once again when Tyler Johnson scored to make it 2-0 at 7:15.
Kucherov does it again. The nifty move he does at the blue line before feeding a pass into the high slot for Johnson was beautiful. Once Johnson had the puck it was a quick game of give and go with Brayden Point before Johnson one-timed it past Crawford for the 2-0 lead. Again, no Blackhawk is even close to make a play on Johnson here. Leaving him this free to take a shot is asking for trouble.
The pain wouldn’t relent as 2:50 after Johnson’s goal, Point notched one of his own after Kucherov made another great play.
Let’s not forget the zone entry and ability to keep the puck alive down low by Eric Cernak though. Cernak does a great job to have two defenders pull towards him to free up Kucherov below the goal line. Kucherov then slides a beautiful pass towards Point, who was racing toward the net at the time. Point just pushes the puck forward and past Crawford for the 3-0 lead. Brandon Saad’s reaction to this play was far too late to matter. He puts his stick in the passing lane, but doesn’t move his body over to give him a chance to at least poke the puck off Point’s stick—Chicago’s loss though.
Unfortunately, one mistake ended up biting the Lightning in the rear just 1:05 after Point’s goal. Artem Anisimov scored off a slick backhand to give Chicago some life.
This goal is on two people—Anthony Cirelli and Braydon Coburn. Cirelli has Anisimov covered at first, but then skates away from him by over compensating for DeBrincat motioning up the boards. Coburn should’ve recognized what Cirelli was doing sooner so he could at least try to disrupt Anisimov in some manner. He swiped his stick at him which did nothing in this scenario. I’m more inclined to say Cirelli should’ve stuck to Anisimov longer in this situation. I understand he was going to eventually cover the point man in this instance, but DeBrincat is looking at Anisimov the entire time he’s near the boards.
Anisimov’s goal didn’t move the needle much for the Blackhawks afterward. Tampa Bay continued applying pressure in all three zones and only had one moment that was dangerous. That was when Alexandre Fortin came in on a breakaway only to have his stick break right as he tried to shoot the puck. Fortunate for Tampa Bay, but Fortin might have been shut down anyway given how well Domingue was this evening. Regardless, the Lightning moved the puck back up the ice and continued to pressure Chicago.
Chicago did manage to negate some of the pressure by clearing the puck quicker, but it bit them at 14:52 when Ryan Callahan scored to make it 4-1.
Chicago clears this well enough, but Chris Kunitz takes an awkward whack at the puck and causes it to go around his intended target, Marcus Kruger. The puck then rolls into the Lightning zone where Ryan McDonagh banks it off the boards, past Luke Johnson, and onto the stick of Ryan Callahan. Callahan then displayed the nifty mitts of his younger years by pulling the puck around Erik Gustafsson and sniping it past Crawford to regain the three goal lead.
The second and third periods were largely similar. Tampa Bay took a noticeable step back and Chicago took advantage of it. In the second, Chicago controlled 58% of the shots at 5v5, but only managed to put seven on net. This was due to Tampa Bay forcing a large amount of shot attempts to the outside or outright blocking them. It wasn’t until 18:49 when Jonathan Toews sweeped in a rebound that Chicago’s efforts were rewarded.
Sometimes you get beat by a good play and that’s what this was. Point was a bit late covering Toews, but there isn’t much to complain about here. Chicago made a play and deserve full marks on this goal.
Tampa Bay did have two (and a half) power-plays in the second, and even though they generated some good scoring opportunities Corey Crawford held the fort down for the Blackhawks.
The third period saw Chicago control 55% of the shots at 5v5 and a long stretch of power-play time that saw the Lightning penalty kill and Louis Domingue thwart numerous chances that had many in Amalie Arena holding their breath. Once Tampa Bay killed the penalties, Chicago continued to attack and apply pressure on Domingue, but the netminder was locked in this evening. He stopped all 14 shots fired on him, and that doesn’t even account for the shots Tampa Bay blocked or forced wide.
Chicago pulled Crawford with 2:47 left in regulation, but were unable to get through the Lightning defense or Domingue.
This was a game that was decided in the first period. Tampa Bay’s assault in the first 20 minutes was all they needed this evening, but the tail end of the second and the entire third periods were sketchy at times. I’m leaning on score effects being the primary culprit, but Tampa Bay did noticeable take their foot off the gas after going up 4-1.
This line was bonkers tonight. The passing was clean, the forecheck was strong, and the goals came in bunches. Johnson will get the headline for knotting two goals, but Kucherov was the lynchpin in all of them. Let’s also not forget Cernak getting into the action with two assists this evening. Sometimes a line just clicks the right way on certain nights and this was the line tonight. (By comparison, Stamkos was the one man wrecking crew on Wednesday).
This is another line that Cooper can throw out later in the season to wreak havoc on opposing teams. Combine that with the previous iterations he has made in the top-six rotation and it’ll be difficult to slow down Tampa Bay’s offense moving forward.
The second period saw the Lightning have two and a half power-plays where they generated four shots. The most dangerous opportunity was a one-timer from Kucherov that rang off the top bar. Outside of that, the man advantage didn’t do much to move the needle this evening. It was mostly just there. Not horrible, not great, just there.
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