There comes a time in every season when depth becomes a factor for a hockey team. For the Tampa Bay Lightning it was Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks where their depth was tested. They passed the test as they beat the Blackhawks 4-2, in Chicago, despite not having Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos available.
Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, Brayden Point, and Cedric Paquette scored for the Lightning while Curtis McElhinney won his third game in a row by stopping 28 of 30 shots. Brent Seabrook and Dylan Strome scored for the Hawks.
The Lightning went with an 11-forward/ 7-defensemen line-up against Chicago as Nikita Kucherov missed the game due to an injury suffered against St. Louis earlier in the week. Cory Conacher made his season debut while Braydon Coburn and Jan Rutta returned to the line-up as well.
Their resolve was tested even further when Stamkos left the game following the first period. Despite being on the bench for the last two periods, he didn’t take a shift after suffering what was described as a lower body injury.
It was a tough game, made even tougher by the loss of their captain, but the Lightning ground it out by limiting their turnovers and driving play into the Chicago zone. Anthony Cirelli (18:53) and Cedric Paquette (17:32) shouldered unusually high loads of ice time and responded well as Cirelli had a goal and an assist while Paquette had six hits and the game-icing empty net goal at the end.
The Lightning were looking to get back to basics against Chicago. Get the puck in deep, win battles along the boards, fire pucks on net, all that jazz. For the most part they accomplished that. From the opening shift the Lightning were skating pretty well and generated the early offense as they accumulated the first five shots of the game.
Brayden Point, centering a line with Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat, fired a shot that hit Corey Crawford up high. The puck bounced into the air, came down in the crease dangerously close to Crawford’s left skate, but Duncan Keith swatted it out of danger before the Chicago netminder could kick it into his own net.
The game evened out a bit as it progressed with Patrick Kane being his usual offensive self. The forward had four of the Blackhawks’ 12 shots. One of the shots that didn’t count was probably their best chance. After Alex Killorn found himself in the penalty box for cross-checking old friend Slater Koekkoek, the Lightning inexplicably let Kane coast through the offensive zone unchecked. Jonathan Toews slid a pass to him, but Kane’s shot skittered off the outside of the net.
Just as the Lightning penalty expired, Duncan Keith had a slick little pick move on Point that was actually called by the officials. No Kucherov, no problem as the second unit found the back of the net. Mikhail Sergachev fired a one-timer off his back foot that found room just inside the post and into the back of the net.
Good shot by Sergachev and good job by Pat Maroon to create some distraction in front of the goaltender. Olli Maatta slides back a little to box Maroon out and that creates the lane for Sergachev’s shot. If Maroon isn’t trying to bull his way into the slot, chances are Maata is in position to block the shot.
Play evened a bit after the goal as the Blackhawks pushed back. They ended the period by drawing a penalty on Erik Cernak who stopped skating a bit and was forced to hold/interfere David Kampf along the boards.
Your ice time leader for the Bolts among forwards in the first period - Cedric Paquette with 7:04. The Lightning outshot the Hawks 14-12.
Numbers after 1 for TB v CHI. Good start. Cory Conacher with a nice showing in his first NHL shifts in over a year. pic.twitter.com/YKEM4D77QH— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) November 22, 2019
When a team goes with eleven forwards it leads to a lot of line mixing. So it wasn’t until about eight minutes into the period that folks started noticing that Steven Stamkos hadn’t taken a shift in the period. While he was on the bench he wouldn’t see the ice except for some brief skating during a stoppage in play. His last shift came on the penalty kill at the end of the first period and there wasn’t anything obvious as to what might be ailing him.
Down to just ten forwards the Lightning had to rely on some of their secondary scoring in order to keep the pressure on the Hawks. Midway through the period Conacher found himself in his office (the right circle) and fired off a one-timer that Crunch fans are used to seeing go in the net. Unfortunately, Crawford wasn’t very accommodating and made the save.
Anthony Cirelli, who logged a lot of ice time in Stamkos’ absence, had the best scoring chance on a two-on-one with Alex Killorn. The center took Killorn’s feed and tried to slide it past Crawford, but the goalie made save, kicking the rebound right back to Cirelli. He tried to backhand it past the sprawled out goaltender but hit the post.
As for the defense, it was pretty good. They kept Chicago off the scoreboard despite the Hawks being on the power play at the beginning of the period and the end of the period. Chicago’s plan of attack seems to be for Kane to find an open spot on the ice and his teammates try and get the puck to him. He had his chances, but the Lightning blocked a few shot and Curtis McElhinney was in position to make the saves that came through.
Numbers after 2. CHI is not a good team but with only 10 fwds on the road, any kind of win for TB would be fine tonight. pic.twitter.com/ezWNFLUx4u— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) November 22, 2019
Having played with only ten forwards since the beginning of the second period seemed to be wearing on the Lightning a bit as the Blackhawks began to dictate play in the third period. An early power play for the Lightning after Kampf drove Mathieu Joseph into the boards went goalless.
The Hawks had a golden opportunity just after the power play ended as the puck slid out to Alex DeBrincat all alone to McElhinney’s right. The talented winger whiffed on a bouncing puck and wasn’t able to put it into an open net.
Chicago finally realized that if they can’t put it past the goalie, perhaps they should try to put it off the the goalie. Brent Seabrook took a shot from the blueline that Ondrej Palat blocked. The rebound came back to Seabrook and he skated it down low. With no one to pass it to, and the slightest of openings on the short side he took a shot that hit McElhinney in the mast and deflected behind him into the net. Tough break for the goaltender.
The Lightning, who had been looking a little tired prior to the goal, seemed to have a little life injected back into them. Just a minute after the Seabrook goal, they found the back of the net.
It starts with Mathieu Joseph chipping the puck into the Hawks zone. He then stays along the boards and knocks down the clearing attempt. Alex Killorn gets the puck down low, spies Victor Hedman at the top of the circle and feeds him the puck. The defenseman lets a tricky wrister go that Anthony Cirelli tips past Crawford and just over the goalline to give the lead back to the Lightning.
They weren’t done scoring. For their next goal it was a little mix of toughness and talent. Chicago has the puck along the boards in the neutral zone. That is until Tyler Johnson comes in with a check that causes separation. Palat digs the puck out and proceeds down the ice at a rapid pace. A subtle little shoulder fake freezes Crawford a bit and Palat slides the puck to Point who had been busting down the slot at top speed. Point easily deflects the puck into the net and the Lightning lead 3-1.
Still, there are seven minutes to go in the game and the Blackhawks weren’t going to go away quietly on their home ice. Following another failed power play for the Lightning, and with the net empty at their end, Chicago won a face-off in the Lightning’s zone. The shot from the point came in and Dylan Strome was able to poke the rebound past McElhinney.
The lead for the Lightning was back down to one and Chicago kept pressing. With a minute to go, Cirelli made a Cirelli-type play. The puck was slowly rolling to the blue line in the Lightning zone, just out of his reach. As the Chicago defender pinched in, Cirelli dove for the puck and poked it past him. Cedric Paquette was in the right spot to scoop it up, scoot down the ice and slam it into the empty net to seal the game.
That made it 4-2 and that was the score when the final whistle blew. An excellent team win for the Lightning.
- It was a total team effort for the Bolts in Chicago. With Kucherov and Stamkos out, it was the Cirelli and Paquette lines that really drove a lot of the play.
- Cory Conacher looked like the player Syracuse Crunch fans have become familiar with over the last few seasons. He was active with and without the puck in the offensive zone and flashed that lethal one-timer that almost beat Crawford. Not a bad week for him going from the AHL to the top power play unit for the Lightning.
- Curtis McElhinney didn’t have many flashy saves, but he was in great position for most of them. He had a tracking beacon on Patrick Kane and was squared up for all of the shots (8 of them) Kane fired at him.
- Two of the best moves in the game came from defensemen. In the first period Kevin Shattenkirk made a nice move along the moves to turn Connor Murphy inside-out before dishing the puck to Killorn for a golden opportunity. Then it was Sergachev who absolutely dangled Alex Nylander with a forehand-backhand move that sent Nylander tumbling to the ice.