Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point led the way with two goals each. Okay, one of Kucherov’s goals was deflected by Ryan Callahan and Point’s “second goal” was the shootout winner, but the effort was made. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 of 32 possible saves, some much bigger than others, including going three for three in the shootout.
Here is my play-by-play of the action.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been getting their chances early, but the forwards have been neglecting keeping a player at the top of the zone to negate odd-man rushes. As a result, the team has given up two odd-man rushes in the first five minutes of the game. Neither led to a scoring chance because the puck-carrier just ended up shooting the puck into Andrei Vasilevskiy’s chest.
The Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov line has been the Bolts’ best in the early goings. Point and Kuch have been circling and flowing around the middle of the offensive zone, waiting for a mistake from the Habs so they can flip the puck back to Victor Hedman for a blast or down to Gourde for a high-danger chance.
Andrej Sustr goes into the corner to retrieve a dump in and gives the puck away to Daniel Carr. Jordie Benn at the point puts the puck on net and former Lightning center Byron Froese scores. Sustr had time and space but didn’t use either of them and it led to a very weak giveaway.
Alex Killorn releases Point right at the red line with Mikhail Sergachev jumping up on the rush and heading straight for the net. Sergachev draws two players towards him as Point switches to his forehand side of the ice. With no one guarding him, Point rings a perfect shot off the post, crossbar, and into the net.
Karl Alzner clips Kuch with a hit to the Russian wingers’ knee and captain Steven Stamkos does not approve. Immediately Stammer jumps on Alzner and the two kind of fight. There weren’t many punches thrown, the captain just wanted Montreal’s big free-agent signing last summer to know that he won’t let plays like that slide.
Stamkos and Alzner each get five minute for fighting with Stamkos receiving a 10-minute and two-minute misconduct for instagating. Adam Erne serving the extra penalty with Stamkos who will be in the box for 17 minutes.
The Lightning kill off the penalty just fine but during the kill, Brendan Gallagher hits Hedman high in the face from behind and away from the play with an elbow or head and leaves Hedman shaken up on the ice. On their next shift together Hedman and Gallagher drop the gloves after some words were exchanged. Both get two minutes for roughing resulting in 4-on-4 hockey. These bottom of the league Habs are playing dirty.
The shots and attempts are even at 12 and 19 apiece respectively, which tells the story that both teams are getting their chances. The difference between the Lightning and the Habs is the scoring chances. The Lightning are leading that category 14-9 after one period of play. Look for the Habs to get their chances just the same as the Lightning but for the quality of those chances to be much lower.
Do you see that big blue circle right in front of the net? Yeah, that’s what we want to see.
A few minutes into the second, Charles Hudon trips Point in the high slot. The Bolts proceed to go full Harlem Globetrotters on the Habs with the extra man. Point would get the best chance of the shift, but just missed the puck a little high. Tyler Johnson would later get the best chance on the power play, but Antti Niemi — yes, he’s still in the league — stops him with the glove.
Paul Byron takes an interference penalty 11 seconds after the first penalty ended, giving the Lightning another two minutes (or less) with the extra man.
KUUUUUUUUUCH!!!!!! Kucherov finishes off a give-and-go with Victor Hedman and sends a one-time blast that beats Niemi, giving the Lightning their first lead of the game. Johnson with the second assist. Kucherov’s 33rd goal of the season is his 29th power play point of the season, tying him with Steven Stamkos for 7th in the league.
After Erne just misses a feed from Cory Conacher on one end of the ice, Joe Morrow joins the rush, takes a Hudon pass, and gets the puck through a screen and past Vasy. Max Pacioretty had the second assist on the goal.
Kucherov takes a hooking penalty on Victor Mete with 4:27 left in the second. Vasy stops Jeff Petry but kicks the puck right up the slot. Max Pacioretty picks up the rebound and slings it past a sprawling Vasilevskiy. Jonathan Drouin gets the second assist.
It looks like the Lightning are forcing the play now that they’re behind. Sergachev fanned on a breakout pass with essentially no one else in the zone with him. The puck went straight to Pacioretty, but the Habs’ captain couldn’t beat Vasy.
It’s the final minute of the period and it looks like Jon Cooper has reunited the Namestamkov line. This season, the three have combined for a 53% shot attempt differential and a +7 goal differential when together. If this continues for the third, expect the plan be for the Lightning to throw everything they have at the Habs and break them with sheer force rather than grind them down with depth.
The two teams are in a dead heat in terms of shots (22-23), the Lightning have a lead when it comes to attempts (47-38), and a massive lead when it comes to scoring chances (28-19). The goals will come.
Seven seconds into the period, Froese takes a cross-checking penalty. 21 seconds into the period, Phillip Danault takes a slashing penalty. With a 5-on-3 power play for 1:46, the Lightning could open this game wide open.
[One minute later] Uhh... Who had Stamkos and Kucherov combining for 3 posts? Because you win all the lotteries.
After several grade-A chances, Kucherov leaves his spot and circles to the top of the zone where he looses a wrister through the Callahan screen and right into the top right corner of the net. FINALLY. Initially the goal was credited as Kucherov’s second of the game, but it turns out Callahan got a tip on it, so it’s #24’s goal.
This game is quickly turning into a special teams battle as Alex Killion takes a hooking penalty less than two minutes after the Kucherov goal.
The next two minutes went thus: Drouin blows a tire in the neutral zone and all the Habs fans call a tripping penalty on Kunitz. Point blocks a shot and gets away for a breakaway but can’t complete the deke, Dan Girardi saves a sure goal when he blocks a pass from Hudon.
The Lightning kill the penalty but Vladislav Namestnikov takes the third consecutive hooking penalty against the team. On the man advantage, Point gets another chance, but is stopped. On the other side, Pacioretty gets free in the middle of the slot on a play that developed because Callahan fell and couldn’t cover the defenseman. No worries, however, because Vasy stopped him.
The next 18 minutes of the game is essentially the same. Both teams have productive forechecks in each others’ zone but can’t penetrade the middle of the ice. The clock winds down and neither team takes any risk out of fear of losing a free point. This is what the 3-point game has done to the NHL. Stop it, NHL. It’s so boring.
We shouldn’t be here, but we are because the Lightning have once assumed they don’t have to play structured defense against a bad team. The Lightning still lead in shots (33-31), attempts (74-6), and massively in chances (42-35).
Hedman gets the first big chance when no one decides to take him as he pinches towards the net. Niemi stops him, allowing the Habs to break Pacioretty for a breakaway. Vasilevskiy stays right with him as Patches dekes to Vasy right and closes any gaps. Vasy would again make a huge save off a post-to-post passing play between two Montreal forwards.
Joe Morrow in the Lightning zone high-sticks Johnson in the corner, giving the Lightning a massive 4-on-3 power play opportunity with 2:32 left in overtime. Please score.
Kucherov takes a shot. Stopped.
Stamkos takes a shot. Stopped.
Hedman takes a shot. Blocked.
Kucherov takes a shot. Stopped.
We go to a shootout.
Paul Byron..... Stopped by Vasy!
Chris Kunitz..... Stopped by Niemi.
Jonathan Drouin..... Misses the net!
Brayden Point..... SCORES!!!!!
Charles Hudon..... STOPPED BY ANDREI VASILEVSKIY’S GLOVE!
GO LOOK AT THE RIDICULOUSNESS THAT VASILEVSKIY JUST PULLED OH MY GOODNESS!— Steve Dangle Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) February 25, 2018
That took way longer than it should’ve but we won, so hah!
The Good: Point and Kucherov
These two were flying all night. Point could’ve had a hat trick on odd-man rushes or breakaways alone. I don’t think people understand how much of an asset it is to have stars like Point and Stamkos kill penalties on a regular basis. Not only does it allow the team to have more skilled players and fewer players who need to be sheltered at even-strength in order to be used on the penalty kill, but it puts the fear of Gourde in opposing teams when they’re on the power play. The Lightning have the second-most short-handed goals for in the league for a reason, and that reason is Brayden Point and co.
Nikita Kucherov is such a good goal-scorer. Not only is his shot lethal, but Kuch is smart enough to make major adjustments mid-game. Callahan’s goal came when Kuch moved from his regular spot — that Niemi was covering really well due to there being no screen in front — to Hedman’s spot where there are more bodies in front. It worked to tie the game and it nearly worked again in overtime. Kucherov could’ve been stubborn and kept shooting from his regular spot and keep failing to score, but he made adjustments and trusted his instincts even in high-pressure situations
The Bad: Andrej Sustr
This wasn’t a good game for Sustr in any area of the ice. He was soft on the giveaway for the first goal by the Habs, he gave the puck away a second time at the offensive blueline leading to a scoring chance for the Canadiens, and as a whole he was a negative when it comes to scoring chances while he’s on the ice relative to his teammates.
The Whatever: Steven Stamkos
I actually thought Stammer had a great game that just didn’t result in a goal on the scoresheet due to bad luck and frankly clutch goaltending by Antti Niemi. My one qualm with his game tonight was that he took that 17-minute penalty. I know he was sticking up for his teammate, but third-pair defenseman Karl Alzner was able to eliminate one of the best players on the ice for a third of the game, a third during which the Habs were able to grow momentum and even score a goal. It played right into Montreal’s hands. I’m sure the team appreciated the gesture, but I’m sure they’d rather have had him on the ice for those 17 minutes instead.
The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins in regulation tonight, pushing Boston down to third in the division, five points back of the Bolts. That result also means that both teams are within five points of the Lightning for top spot in the division. The Bolts play the Leafs on Monday, a game that could either kick the Leafs down and away from the Lightning’s position, or bring them to within two points.