Winning in the National Hockey League is hard—that much is indisputable. Given that the Lightning have managed to win 48 of their first 63 games, it should go without saying that this team has been near unstoppable this season. This evening showed us that even when the Lightning aren’t at their best, they can still win games. Yes, it was against the 30th ranked team in the league, but at the end of the day what matters are the two points. With a 4-3 shootout victory over the Los Angeles Kings, the Lightning accomplished two feats—extending their win streak to nine games and being the first team in the league to hit 100 points. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 31 saves while Jack Campbell made 30.
A strong start by the Lightning led to a delay of game penalty on Dion Phaneuf that gave Tampa Bay a power-play just 55 seconds into the game. It took the Lightning 10 seconds to capitalize.
Nikita Kucherov managing to stop a clearing attempt by Derek Forbort is the reason this goal happens. Kucherov recovering the puck catches all of Los Angeles off guard which left Steven Stamkos all alone in the left faceoff circle. Brayden Point managed to cut into the slot for a pass and wasted little time moving to his backhand and putting it past Campbell to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead just 1:05 into the game.
The Lightning would continue to pressure Los Angeles as the period continued, but there were a few worrying signs early on. Odd-man rushes for the Kings occurred a few times, but thanks to great plays by Victor Hedman and Vasilevskiy these chance were negated. Aside from aforementioned rushes, Los Angeles struggled to generate much offense. Most of the period was spent in the Kings zone due to the Lightning’s relentless forecheck.
Case in point, the second goal.
The replay doesn’t show the work that Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn, and Braydon Coburn did prior to goal. All four of them repeatedly worked the Kings along the boards and cycled the puck to each other. Coburn even got involved before moving back to the point. This goal should be used to illustrate what good forechecking and board play is all about.
Los Angeles did have some life brought back into them on the back end of the period with two penalties on the Lightning (cross checking on Eric Cernak and hi-sticking on J.T. Miller). The Kings failed to convert, but they did have a few good looks on their first man advantage. Vasilevskiy negated them, but the pressure was there.
Sloppy is the best way to describe the second period. This isn’t to say Tampa Bay played poorly, they controlled 55% of the shot attempts, but there were many sequences where they weren’t as sharp in the passing or decision making department. The sloppy play was on display early when Tyler Toffoli had an in-close chance off a defensive zone turnover. If the Kings were the Kings of old, this period would’ve been where things got interesting.
Still, the Lightning continued to pressure the Kings when they recovered from these mistakes. A tripping penalty on Anze Kopitar gave Tampa Bay a power-play that saw Stamkos and Miller hit the post (and Stamkos missing a wide open net). Later in the period Killorn hit the post after a nice setup by Cirelli. There were chances for Tampa Bay, but they were unable to convert on any of them. For a team with an array of gifted shooters like the Lightning have, it was an off night for most.
Los Angeles hung around though. Thanks part to Tampa Bay failing to convert and their own doggedness. Near the midway point is where the Kings started to sustain offensive pressure and force Vasilevskiy into some awkward situations. Vasilevskiy held the fort down, but there was a feeling that if the Lightning didn’t get that third goal, then the Kings could very well claw their way back in.
After 40 minutes, the score still remained 2-0, but Tampa Bay’s sloppy play wasn’t entirely encouraging. Though, for a team that has consistently found ways to clean up their game period to period, there wasn’t much to worry about (at least we thought).
An early hi-sticking penalty of Miller gave the Kings the early advantage, but the Lightning penalty kill was up to the task as they negated the power-play with little trouble.
Minutes later and one mistake ended up in the back of the net.
Dan Girardi misplays the puck and is unable to get back in time to disrupt Alex Iafallo from knocking in the rebound from Chris Wagner’s shot. There was some initial thought that Iafallo kicked this in, but that was quickly dispelled on replay—it bounces off his lower shin as he’s trying to stop and squeaks between Vasilevskiy’s right arm and chest. An unfortunate bounce, but one that doesn’t cause the Lightning many issues.
Los Angeles noticeably upped their pressure after the Iafallo goal, but a hair raising moment just minutes after his goal saw Gourde just miss tapping a loose puck into an empty net when a dump in bounced off the glass and toward the front of the net. Campbell managed to recover in time, but that was Tampa Bay’s chance to silence a Los Angeles surge.
This one’s on Vasilevskiy folks. He hesitates and doesn’t get much on his pass attempt which is immediately jumped on by Brandon Leipsic. Anton Stralman was positioned behind the net to give Vasilevskiy a passing option (they do this regularly). That’s the biggest reason why John Brodzinski was wide open. Sure, we could say Killorn was slow to recognize the situation, but if Vasilevskiy simply gets the pass off correctly then everything else is moot.
But wait, there’s more!
What a weird sequence of events. The broadcast explains it quite well though. Los Angeles does lay off on the forecheck compared to what they were doing earlier and it pays off. No one in blue is in position aside from Coburn, but something causes Coburn’s leg to twist awkwardly and he misses where the rebound is. Wagner cleans it up and gives the Kings a 3-2 lead off of it, but if Coburn just notices where the puck is then this goal doesn’t happen. I’ve watched the replay 20 times by this point and Coburn’s skate just turns awkwardly. I’m unsure if he lost an edge or just made an odd movement with his ankle, but that’s what really blows this up for the Lightning.
Luckily for Tampa Bay, when they stop making mistakes and start focusing on their game good things happen.
When your team needs a pick me up, your captain is supposed to be the catalyst for it. This goal was all Stamkos. He dumps the puck in, reads the play, steals the puck, and feeds an open Miller for a one-timer to tie the game 58 seconds after the Kings took the lead.
The remainder of regulation saw a back and forth battle that ultimately went Los Angeles’ way in the possession department (59%, the only period they controlled), but neither goaltender flinched during big moments. A power-play for Tampa Bay saw Campbell hold his own, though, the Lightning did themselves few favors by being a bit too passive in the shooting department. The Kings came right back with a Dustin Brown breakaway that saw Vasilevskiy push it aside.
There were moments where it felt like Tampa Bay’s forecheck, which was still and issue for Los Angeles, would win the day, but the Kings did a solid job keeping most of the chances to the outside. It also helped that Campbell was lights out in the third period.
Tampa Bay controlled 85% of the overtime period. Hedman had the best chances, but Campbell managed to thwart them. Los Angeles had roughly one or two shifts where they were dangerous, but aside from that it was Tampa Bay dictating what was happening. Killorn had a great chance after dancing around two Kings players, but Campbell was there once again. So, once again, off to the shootout we went.
Point-Save by Campbell 1-1
Kempe-Save by Vasilevskiy 2-2
Brown-Save by Vasilevskiy 3-2 and game
On Pace for History
We are witnessing history... pic.twitter.com/KZr7UyOexC— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) February 26, 2019
How did those teams do?
‘76-’77 Canadiens - Stanley Cup Champions (regarded as one of the greatest teams ever assembled)
‘77-’78 Canadiens - Stanley Cup Champions
What the Lightning are doing this season is something we’ve never seen during the salary cap era. Soak this in, because this team has been on a whole other level than the rest of the league. Let’s hope the end result is the same, but for that to happen the Lightning need to remain consistent heading into the postseason.
I mentioned this in the press box that it felt like the Lightning weren’t taking the Kings too serious during the first two periods. Their propensity for making the extra pass was very apparent in the first period, and in the second they seemed content with riding a two goal at times. Then Los Angeles got a lucky bounce to get on the board and the momentum shift caught Tampa Bay off guard. They came back and ultimately won, but the point of this is to highlight what they could’ve done better.
The trade deadline should be an off day for teams. Give the players and their families time to say good-bye to friends and teammates, situate the initial plans for moving, and for the players to have some semblance of normalcy for a day that sees a litany of players move cities in a matter of hours. They go out on the ice and play their asses off for nine months. The NHL should give them this small reprieve—they’re people first and foremost.