The surging Florida Panthers arrived in Tampa Bay looking to shrink the gap between themselves and the final wildcard team, Columbus. In a game that was back and forth throughout, the Tampa Bay Lightning emerged victorious in their sixth straight overtime game by the score of 5-4.
The opening half of the first period had an even pace to it with only a few moments of real action. Both Florida and Tampa Bay kept each other to the outside and limited any shots in the slot. However, shortly after the midway point, Tampa Bay managed to strike first off a fortuitous bounce. Andrej Sustr fired the puck from the point only to have it be deflected high and behind the Panthers net. Brayden Point immediately went to retrieve it but was covered by Vincent Trocheck. Trocheck poke-checked the puck through Point’s legs but did not realize Yanni Gourde was standing right behind him. Gourde recovered the puck and put it past Roberto Luongo—who thought Point recovered the puck on to the opposite side of the net and was unable to make a save.
Tampa Bay would next reap the rewards of a rather odd mistake by the Panthers defense. Mark Pysyk corralled the puck behind the net and then tried to make a drop pass, but instead simply dropped it behind his own net. Yanni Gourde (who does not know the meaning of “stop skating”) was in on the forecheck and recovered the loose puck. He drew a defender towards him and then backhanded a pass to a wide open J.T. Miller who roofed a backhand past Luongo to make it 2-0 Tampa Bay with 7:09 remaining in the first.
Florida outshot the Lightning throughout the opening period, but only a handful of shots were dangerous. Most were from the point or the outside where Vasilevskiy stopped it the defense managed to clear it out. The only time Vasilevskiy came under any kind of siege was around the 7-minute mark (shortly after Miller scored) where he made an incredible save on Aleksander Barkov.
Florida’s first real semblance of sustained pressure came after Steven Stamkos was called for holding with a little over five minutes left in the period. Florida came into the game with one of the hottest power-plays over the last 16 games at 22%, and Tampa Bay’s penchant for struggling on the penalty kill was a bit worrisome. Luckily, the penalty kill unit stepped up and neutralized any dangerous opportunities the Panthers managed to create. A welcome sign since the penalty kill has been the one glaring weakness the Lightning have had this season.
Unfortunately, with a team as talented as Florida all it takes is one shift and everything can change. Tampa Bay was caught puck chasing late in the period and failed to recover the puck along the boards several times. This allowed Nick Bjugstad to control the puck down near the goal line just below the right faceoff circle. Bjugstad didn’t have any options to pass since the Lightning had managed to position themselves appropriately after scrambling for the previous 5-10 seconds. Bjugstad then threw a shot on goal and it bounced off Vasilevskiy’s helmet and into the net.
The only real complaint on that shift was that Tampa Bay had a few chances to recover and clear the puck, but failed to do so. The goal was rather flukey, to be honest.
A key point that helped Tampa Bay gain the lead was their relentless forecheck—headlined by the lovable Yanni Gourde. Just over a minute into the second period Yanni Gourde recovered a loose puck below the goal line—which was there due to Miller’s forecheck—and skated into the right faceoff circle. Gourde turned and threw a shot on net and managed to beat Luongo—who was being screened by Miller and a Panthers defender—to make it 3-1.
Tampa Bay continued to pressure the Panthers as the period progressed creating a few dangerous chances that were thwarted by Luongo. At the midway point of the period, the momentum was in the Lightning’s favor, even if the shot clock was leaning heavily towards the Panthers.
A note on the shot disparity here. A lot of Florida’s shots were from far out and it seemed like their game plan was to force a rebound and clean it up off their forecheck. Tampa Bay wasn’t allowing the Panthers any room in the middle of the ice early on and it appeared as though Florida’s adjustment was to just throw shots from any and every angle. The Panthers crashed the net anytime a rebound did come from Vasilevskiy, but nothing was of the dangerous variety (unlike the flurry of shots Vasilevskiy saw around the 7-minute mark of the first period)—this would come back to haunt Tampa Bay later.
Florida managed to put Tampa Bay on their heels after the midway point of the second period as they continuously chipped the puck in to work their cycle game or simply shot it on net from the top of the faceoff circles trying to generate any kind of scoring chance. It paid off for the Panthers as Nick Bjugstad scored his second of the night after making a power move in front of the net and sweeping the puck past Vasilevskiy’s left leg at 13:35 to make it 3-2. In all honesty, this was just a hell of a play by Bjugstad to force his way to the net and bang away at his own rebound.
It wouldn’t be long before Tampa Bay answered though. As was the case with their other goals, Tampa Bay’s forecheck again was the catalyst of Alex Killorn’s goal. Brayden Point made a soft dump from the blue line for Nikita Kucherov to chase down. Kucherov neutralized the Panthers defender with his body and recovered the puck. Kucherov looked up and saw a streaking Stamkos coming into the offensive zone. Kucherov passed it, Stamkos one-timed it, and Luongo stopped it. However, the rebound came out in front of him and Killorn scooped it up and buried it to give the Lightning their two-goal lead once again.
Florida’s gameplan worked yet again 21 seconds into the third period when Mike Matheson fired a shot from the point that bounced off Dan Girardi and onto the stick of Nick Bjugstad. Bjugstad swept the puck in to give him the hat-trick (his first career hat-trick) and the Panthers plenty of momentum to start the third.
Tampa Bay further dug themselves a whole when Andrej Sustr took a tripping penalty at 3:53. Tampa Bay’s defense managed to thwart some chances, but a Vincent Trochek shot from the top of the right faceoff circle squeaked past Vasilevskiy to tie the game at four apiece.
After playing a rather solid first period and capitalizing on Florida’s mistakes in the second the Lightning had allowed the Panthers to dictate the game. With 13:35 left in the third the shots were 41 to 24 Florida. Yes, many of those shots were harmless and from the outside, but Tampa Bay’s inability to clear their zone at certain junctures was the only thing Florida needed to capitalize.
The period progressed with both teams getting some scoring chances, but neither managed to convert on them. Tampa Bay slightly tilted the ice for a short amount of time after the midway point, but Luongo was there to shut them down. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay sputtered as the period winded to a close. They had a chance during the last minute of regulation but were unable to get a clean shot on net.
On to overtime...for the sixth straight game.
As always folks...
The first group out there is Johnson, Point, and Stralman against Barkov Dadonov, and Yandle.
Dadonov on a breakaway and Point manages to disrupt him just enough.
Tampa Bay gets a two-on-one and Stamkos fires it high and wide.
Now it’s Miller, Gourde, and Hedman out there. Miller up the right wing boards, but gets his stick knocked out of his hands, and Florida gets a rush, but Bjugstad’s shot goes high and out of play.
Florida has controlled this OT so far, but Johnson manages to steal it and forces it into Florida’s zone.
A scramble in front leads to Stralman missing a wide open net, but Johnson recovers and passes it back to Stralman.
Stralman feeds it to Point at the right faceoff circle and...HE JUST UNDRESSED DADONOV AND ROOFED IT PAST LUONGO TO WIN IT!
Six straight overtimes is not conducive to a healthy heart—at all. Tampa Bay is one short of tying the record for consecutive overtime games. This is one record I’d prefer they don’t match, but that’s just me.
I wouldn’t say Tampa played poorly, but they did have moments where they seemed a bit gassed and out of it. They managed to right the ship some once Florida tied it, and had some chances in the final minute of regulation, but this game felt like one that Tampa survived in the end. It could be all of the overtime they’ve been playing that has drained their energy but who knows. Nonetheless, Tampa Bay dug deep and found a way to win yet again.
Yanni Gourde and his merry band of forechecking
All of Tampa Bay’s goals were the result of an aggressive forecheck and at the center of it all was Yani Gourde. We all know his story so I’m not going to reiterate it, but Gourde’s explosion this season has been one of the undersold stories for the Lightning this year.
With a three-point night, Gourde now has 53 points (24G 29A) and should be a dark horse for the Calder trophy. Not a game goes by where Gourde is not noticed with his skating, forechecking, feistiness, and overall ability to make the opposing team’s life a living hell.
Gourde and Point are the two most notable Lightning players who relentlessly attack opposing teams defense, but make no mistake the rest of the team feeds off of them and follows their lead. It was apparent after Gourde scored his first goal that Tampa Bay’s forecheck was going to be deadly this evening. Four of the five goals came because of it—the game-winner where Johnson recovered the loose puck down low was more of a bounce towards him than anything.
As long as Tampa Bay avoids the inconsistencies that plagued them this evening and continue to use their forecheck, the Lightning is a deadly team.
After the first period (where Tampa Bay allowed 18 shots), it felt as though Florida was just aimlessly throwing pucks at the net and hoping for a bounce. Tampa Bay, for the most part, did a solid job cleaning up any rebounds and clearing the zone cleanly. Bjugstad’s first goal was the only real rough shift they had in regards to recovering the puck and clearing it. Heading into the second I expected Tampa Bay to tighten the noose on Florida.
Early on it looked as though Tampa did just that with Gourde scoring early, but the Lightning seemed to back off as the second progressed and were burnt when the Panthers got a cycle going down low which led to Bjugstad’s second goal. Killorn’s answer three minutes later sparked a little more hope, but the third period showcased Tampa Bay’s inconsistencies to the max.
Florida dominated the third period until there were roughly six minutes left in regulation. That’s when Tampa Bay started to push back a bit. It wasn’t much, but it was at least some form of a sign that the Lightning was still there. The last minute of regulation was their best segment of the entire period.
I mentioned before that fatigue could be a factor as to why the Lightning was inconsistent throughout the game (though I doubt the coaching staff of players will admit it). Hopefully, they’ll try to close games out during regulation and avoid a record-tying seventh straight overtime game.
You tell me
There wasn’t anything in this game that made me go “eh”. The forecheck was great, but the defensive inconsistencies were the ugly parts of the game. So, I turn the floor to you all once more. What was your perspective on this evening’s game for the “Whatever” category? Was it how Florida was never penalized all game (aside from the fight)? Was it how Tampa Bay blew a two-goal lead? Give me your opinions!