The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in a New Year’s Eve goaltending extravaganza in Anaheim. The Bolts entered the game having garnered a point in every game so far in December. They finished that impressive accomplishment going 13-0-1 during the calendar month, and extending their point streak to 15 games going back to the end of November. The team hasn’t lost in regulation since the last time they faced the Ducks on November 27th.
Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point scored the goals for the Lightning but the stars of this game were John Gibson and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The game started slowly but with the Ducks getting the better of the play. They generated more shots and a couple dangerous chances including a good look from the slot that Vasilevskiy saved.
The Lightning got on the board first taking the lead against the run of play. Point did most of the work carrying the puck through the neutral zone and entering the offensive zone with speed. He dished the puck the Erik Cernak in the slot who slid it across to Kucherov on the right. Kuch buried it to increase his lead in the NHL scoring race.
Quickly after the goal, Kucherov took a hooking penalty giving the Ducks a power play. The Bolts penalty kill did its job and prevented the Ducks from generating anything meaningful. They didn’t allow a single shot let alone anything on net.
The Lighting got a power play of their own with a little over nine minutes left in the period. As has been the case often lately, they generate several good chances including one that looked destined for the back of the net. Out of a scramble, Steven Stamkos received the puck wide open on the left side. He had all day to pick his spot on Gibson. Stamkos has been finishing most of those chances lately but Gibson did his thing robbing the captain of a goal.
The Ducks continued to control play over the rest of the period building a huge shot and expected goal advantage over the Lightning, especially at 5v5. Anaheim eventually cashed in on their work with an equalizer from Nick Ritchie. Ondrej Kase slid a pretty pass cross ice to a wide open Ritchie. Vasilevskiy didn’t have a chance.
The first period was one of the worst for the Lightning in recent memory. They got caved by the Ducks and entered the second period needing something major to change to have a chance at keeping their point streak alive.
Fortunately for the Lightning, something major did change. The second period was much more even with the Bolts getting the better of the game at both 5v5 and in all situations. But they didn’t tilt the ice in the way Anaheim did in the first period so they didn’t make up the ground they gave up in the first twenty minutes.
Anaheim got the best chance of the first half of the period and even that wasn’t a particularly good one. Kase slid another pass through the slot but no one was there to receive it and it slid away to the corner. Other than that, neither team generated much in the first ten minutes. Both had plenty of offensive zone time but struggled to connect passes against solid defensive play on both sides.
That started to change in the second half of the period as the Lightning put together some chances. The first came to Stamkos who got another clean look on Gibson, this time from the right side. The captain fired the shot directly into the goalie’s chest protector. Not the shot he wanted with that chance.
With just over seven minutes left in the period, Brayden Point drew a penalty on Brandon Montour. The Lightning nearly converted during the delayed call when Kucherov collected a juicy rebound off a Dan Girardi point shot. But, in what would become a theme, he couldn’t beat Gibson.
The Lightning struggled to generate anything on the power play. Victor Hedman got a decent look from the high slot on a play that started with an excellent stretch pass from Vasilevskiy to Ondrej Palat. Gibson had plenty of time to see it and get square and saved it easily.
The best chance came with only a few seconds left on the penalty. Ryan McDonagh fired another stretch pass that ultimately ended up with Yanni Gourde skating in on Gibson. The speedy forward tried to go backhand but couldn’t get the puck over Gibson’s shoulder.
After the game returned to 5v5 the Lightning continued to push play. Cedric Paquette was the next to test Gibson with a quick release from the slot on a good pass from Ryan Callahan along the boards. Later in the period, Palat received a slick little pass from Alex Killorn and skated in on Gibson. The Anaheim netminder was up to both challenges keeping the game tied at one headed into the second intermission.
The third period was a pure goalie show. It started with matching minors to Ritchie and Yanni Gourde one minute into the period leading to four on four hockey. Point got the first chance on a rush where he beat Ryan Getzlaf and nearly beat John Gibson. Getzlaf didn’t like almost getting posterized and responded by cross checking Point in the ribs away from the puck. While I’m sure the retribution was momentarily gratifying, it probably wasn’t worth the unholy terror that Point would unleash on the Ducks over the rest of the game.
The next big chance came for Josh Manson. He got a clean look at Vasilevskiy from the slot but the Russian goaltender made a classic kick save with his left leg to keep the game tied.
With sixteen minutes left, Hampus Lindholm took an interference penalty giving the Lightning a power play. This is when the goalie show went into full effect. Stamkos got all of a one-timer from his office but Gibson got over and saved it. The captain then got his best chance of the game in tight but couldn’t quite get it on net. Point was next with another wonderful chance from the slot. Gibson was having none of it.
After the penalty, Vasilevskiy got his moments to shine. The Ducks applied extended pressure and he turned away everything. Anaheim had multiple chances and created chaos around the net but Vasy did his thing and kept the net clean.
Then the traffic went back the other way. Kucherov had a chance. Point had another chance. Gibson showed why he’s going to run away with the Vezina if he stays healthy. One of the best offensive teams in the NHL could not beat him.
Between Gibson and Vasilevskiy, that stretch of about six to seven minutes was some of the best goaltending I’ve seen in any game this season.
Following that torrid exchange of chances, both teams tightened up defensively. The final eight minutes or so were more structured with neither team taking the risks they had earlier in the period. That led to the game going to overtime.
Heading into OT, the Lightning had partially closed the gap in shots that Anaheim opened in the first period and completely closed the gap in expected goals.
The overtime was a short one. Tampa won the opening faceoff and Anaheim never touched the puck. Point, spurred by the extra jump he gained from the Getzlaf cheap shot, powered his way to the net and beat Gibson on the backhand to claim the second point.
The Lightning ended the year in style with a full team victory. Vasilevskiy was great after a couple of rough games. The stars found a way to beat the best goaltender in the NHL. The first period was ugly but the rest of the game was strong. After an impressive western Canadian road trip, the California trip is off to a good start.
The trip continues as the Bolts open 2019 on Thursday with a late game against the Kings.