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Kucherov shines as Lightning douse Flames in 6-3 victory

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Tampa Bay’s top three players stood out this evening as the Lightning routed the Flames Tuesday night.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A tilt between two of the top teams in the league was thought to be a showcase of potent offenses; only one team got the memo. The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Calgary Flames 6-3 Tuesday night in a game that was never really in question. Nikita Kucherov led the way for the Lightning with four points as Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, and Yanni Gourde had multi-point nights as well. Andrei Vasilevskiy only saw 22 shots this evening and stopped 19. Sean Monahan paced the Flames with two goals and Elias Lindholm led the team in scoring with three points.

1st Period

Calgary controlled the opening two minutes of play by outmaneuvering the Lightning in all three zones, but the Flames struggled to generate any shots on Vasilevskiy. This was due to Tampa Bay keeping Calgary on the perimeter of the offensive zone and disrupting some of their zone entries. The Lightning didn’t help themselves in the early going with some poor zone exits, but after the first two minutes passed they regained control and pushed play toward the Calgary end.

The surge back was led by the fourth line and saw a great chance for Danick Martel that was pushed aside by David Rittich. Calgary would answer back with the Johnny Gaudreau line pinning the Lightning for several seconds before the Lightning defense cleanly cleared the zone. After the Gaudreau push, both teams traded control for the next minute before an in-close chance for Calgary was thwarted by Vasilevskiy at 4:45.

The Point line surged right back into the Calgary end around the 5:30 mark where they cycled the puck around the zone before Kucherov fed a cross-ice pass to Gourde in the slot. Gourde got his stick on the puck, but the chance deflected wide. This surge seemed to give the Lightning some life as the next several shifts saw the Lightning forecheck cause problems for Calgary.

Tampa Bay’s trademark aggressive forecheck is nothing new, but their play at the offensive blue line with the opponent exiting their zone hasn’t always been stellar. Tonight, they frustrated the Flames by neutralizing many of the zone exits Calgary attempted. This resulted in turnovers or the Flames resetting their breakout strategy entirely.

One turnover led to J.T. Miller (who was promoted to the Stamkos line with Ondrej Palat sitting due to injury) ringing one off the post at 9:20 and eventually to a power-play at 10:34 when Oliver Kylington was called for holding. If there was one area the Lightning had a definitive advantage over Calgary, it was on special teams. The Flames have a top ten power-play unit, but their penalty kill is an average unit and that was on full display as Tampa Bay converted on a beautiful passing sequence to open the scoring.

Tic-tac-toe goal. Victor Hedman to Kucherov to Miller to Point and in the net. No better way to describe it. It’s hard to blame Calgary here given how quick the Lightning were during this sequence. In situations like this, a team has to hope their goaltender can react quick enough to negate a goal. Rittich never really had a chance on this one.

Tampa Bay’s pressure wouldn’t relent after Point’s goal. They attacked Calgary in all three zones, effectively forcing the Flames to make passes into small windows. Tampa Bay’s pressure would bear fruit when the fourth line came through at 16:06 when Cedric Paquette scored his ninth goal of the season.

This goal is all Martel. He races in on the forecheck to steal the puck from Travis Hamonic and then feeds a perfect pass to Paquette in the slot. All Paquette had to do was find the soft spot in coverage. For someone who has only played six games this season (and playing for the first time since January 10th), Martel looks like he belongs on an NHL roster.

The offensive onslaught would continue 1:13 later when Kucherov notched his second point of the night.

A rather innocuous shot from Kucherov that deflects off of Mark Giordano’s leg and past Rittich. Calgary challenged the goal for goaltender interference on Yanni Gourde, but the review lasted a couple seconds before it was upheld by the officials. I find the most amusing part of this being Kucherov’s reaction. He seems dismissive of it. Like he wasn’t pleased with how the shot went in. Regardless, the Lightning will take goals in whatever way they can.

Tampa Bay continued to dictate the pace until penalty trouble at the tail end of the period put a stop to that. A roughing call on Paquette at 17:26 put the Lightning on the penalty kill, but a bad hooking penalty on Alex Killorn at 17:45 put them in the unenviable position of killing an extended 5-on-3. Calgary wasted little time taking advantage of this opportunity.

Just a good shot from Giordano that Vasilevskiy is unable to see thanks to the great screen from Matthew Tkachuk. The biggest thing to take away from this is how Calgary was attacking prior to and after Killorn’s penalty.

Calgary has plenty of speed and used it to perfection on the two plays I’m recanting here. Killorn’s penalty was his own doing due to poor positioning. Luckily, this was all Calgary would get as Tampa Bay would kill the 5-on-4 and the remainder of the period.

Overall, this was a fine period from the Lightning. Calgary did win the possession battle 52% to 48%, but trailed in the scoring chance department 53% to 47%. If the Lightning cleaned up some minor things, they’d be in good shape moving forward.

2nd Period

Tampa Bay controlled the first five minutes of the period. Calgary’s zone exits continued to be a problem and the Lightning pounced on every loose puck. They pushed play toward the slot and made Rittich make an array of saves to keep it a two-score game. Calgary pushed back around the six-minute mark and it was here that the game started to open up a bit more in the neutral zone.

By effective I’m referring to getting pressure on the goaltender. Calgary was gaining the zone and doing a decent job staying there, but they couldn’t get much toward Vasilevskiy. The Lightning defense made it a point to take away the slot and keep the Flames on the perimeter. The same play that Calgary used to victimize Killorn was now being covered properly and it took Calgary a bit to adapt to this.

It took Calgary til the midway point of the period to fully adapt, but when they did they took advantage. Their pressure forced a horrible pass by Braydon Coburn that went across the defensive zone onto the stick of a Flames forward. Calgary buzzed throughout the zone before Coburn managed to recover the puck below the left circle, but he made a panic move and iced the puck. The Flames took the offensive zone faceoff and made the Lightning pay immediately.

Sure, we can blame Mikhail Sergachev for missing the clearing attempt on a bouncing puck, but this entire sequence doesn’t occur if Coburn doesn’t have the brutal shift beforehand that put them in this position.

The momentum is in Calgary’s corner. The offensive onslaught that Tampa Bay had in the first appeared to have faded over the past few minutes. Could this be where the game turns in the Flames favor?

No, Tampa Bay fired back 57 seconds later.

Another aggressive forecheck, another goal for the Lightning. Gourde gets the play going below the left circle and Kucherov forces a turnover before feeding a pass to an open Anthony Cirelli in the slot. T.J. Brodie peeled off Cirelli to cover Kucherov and Giordano got tangled up with Gourde as he tried to cover Cirelli. This was probably one of Cirelli’s easy goals of the season.

The next several minutes saw neither team really dictate play. Both would enter the offensive zone and generate some pressure, but play would quickly turn the other way. It wasn’t until another innocuous shot at 16:11 that Tampa Bay’s margin would wide.

Coburn just flings this shot at the net and Gourde makes a fantastic tip that completely throws off Rittich. The initial feed listed Coburn as the goal scorer, but it was corrected after replay clearly showed Gourde tipping it.

A later penalty on Anton Stralman for tripping put Tampa Bay on the kill at the end of another period, but this one went far better than the previous ones. The Lightning limited Calgary’s chances and entered the second intermission with 47 seconds left to kill on Stralman’s penalty and full control of the game.

3rd Period

After killing the remainder of Stralman’s penalty, Tampa Bay went right back to work dictating the game. Their pressure eventually led to a tripping penalty on Garnet Hathaway at 3:02. Another power-play for Tampa Bay against an average penalty kill? Sure, twist my arm.

Jokes aside, this power-play wasn’t that good. The Lightning struggled to establish control and if it wasn’t for this sequence in the last 10 seconds of the man advantage it’d be viewed in a more negative light. Still, Stamkos absolutely obliterated the puck on this shot. I’m surprised it didn’t go through the net, then the boards, and into the stands. That’s how ridiculous this shot was.

The remainder of the period saw score effects take over as Tampa Bay clearly took their foot off the pedal with a 6-2 lead. They did receive two more power-plays but these were largely uneventful as the Lightning seemed content to let the clock run out. Thus, the Flames began to dominant the metric side of things as they would end the period controlling 63% of the shots at 5v5. A later hooking penalty on Ryan McDonagh gave Calgary another chance on the power-play and they didn’t waste this chance.

Give credit where credit is due. This is a beautiful passing sequence for Calgary. Speed, precision passing and Tampa Bay unable to react in time. Stralman didn’t react quick enough to negate the pass and Coburn did nothing to disrupt Lindholm. Vasilevskiy had no chance on this one.

Overall, the Lightning took the Flames to the woodshed this evening. Calgary never looked right in this game. They struggled to navigate the neutral for long stretches of time and their defensive zone play fluctuated from adequate to disastrous. Against a team as deep and talented as Tampa Bay, it looked ugly.

The Good

Goals Goals and more Goals!

Since being shut out for the first time last Thursday against St. Louis the Lightning have gone on to score 16 goals over their last three games. They’ve outscored their opposition 16-9 over this winning streak and any claims that their offense had dried up have quickly been rescinded. Nikita Kucherov still leads the league with 88 points (six points ahead of second place Patrick Kane). Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos are both over 30 goals and the Lightning have a total of seven players with double-digit goals. They lead the league with 213 goals in all situations and sit third in 5v5 goals at 137 (Toronto is at 138 and San Jose is at 141.

The Bad

Inconsistency

It isn’t so much that Tampa Bay was inconsistent tonight, it’s more so how they’ve been this month. At the start of the month they struggled to score more than two goals on three occasions and have completely flipped the script over their past three games. Meanwhile their goals against numbers over this winning streak aren’t exactly sterling. I’m not being pessimistic, just pointing out the trend the team is going through currently. The schedule doesn’t get kinder as the week progresses with Dallas (3rd in the Central), Montreal (top wildcard in the East), Columbus (3rd in the Metropolitan), Philadelphia (have gone 8-1-1 over their last 10 games), and Buffalo (desperately trying to keep their playoff hopes alive) all coming within the next week. The Lightning will be favored in all of them, but that doesn’t mean those teams are going to just not play.

The Whatever

I’m so over the in-arena kiss cam. The cringe is just too much, haha.