The Tampa Bay Lightning scored four unanswered goals in the third period on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes to snatch a 6-3 victory on Thursday night. The win was head coach Jon Cooper’s 300th of his career in only game number 500. In those six full seasons, Cooper has not led his team to a season under 41 wins in 82 games, which is crazy considering the 2016-17 team was without Steven Stamkos. Yet, at the end of that day, Cooper got his team to within one point of the playoffs. If you look at points percentage, Cooper’s .633 is an average of a 104 point season.
Louis Domingue got his 21st win of the season, stopping 25 of 28 shots. Kudos to the Lightning for clamping down after a squirrely first period, Domingue only had to face 15 shots in the final two periods and just nine in the third.
On offense, Nikita Kucherov got a secondary assist on Tyler Johnson’s goal, giving him 120 points in 75 games, which is the fourth fastest in NHL history. Sidney Crosby in 2006-07 was the last to hit that feat at all.
I’m sorry, but where is the lie? Best offensive player the NHL has seen since 20-year-old Crosby, with a +25 goal differential at even strength, 31 points ahead of his closest teammate, and still gets talked about as bad defensively and being carried by his team. No respect, I tell you.
Nikita Kucherov would be a God if he was Canadian.— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) March 22, 2019
Stamkos, Johnson, Anthony Cirelli, Ryan Callahan, Brayden Point, and Ryan McDonagh scored the goals in the game. Victor Hedman led the team from the backend, putting up three assists in 26 minutes of icetime. He and Mikhail Sergachev as a pair put together a 58% shot attempt rating while playing one of the best shot differential teams in the league.
Stamkos power play goal on the first shot of the game. Point and Miller won the puck in the corner against the penalty killers who were trying to overload the zone. Unlucky for them, the Lightning were able to get the puck out and quickly to Stamkos on the far side where he made no mistake. This was the first of three assists given to Hedman in this game and the first of two primary assists.
After the goal, the Hurricanes put together a couple good shifts, cycling around the offensive zone and keeping the puck away from the Lightning. As the Lightning tried to get the puck out of the zone following a forecheck, Cedric Paquette got stripped of the puck by Sebastian Aho who fed trigger man Nino Niederreiter for a shot that beat Domingue. The Lightning definitely didn’t play badly here, but they definitely got out-matched by the first line of the Hurricanes.
Andrei Svechnikov picked up the puck from Jordan Staal in the neutral zone and chugged past Braydon Coburn around the outside. He drove to the net and took a shot on Domingue, which was stopped, but the rebound fell to a driving Dougie Hamilton whose snapper from the slot beat Domingue clean. I won’t lie, I got Hedman shivers on that play. Hamilton’s way too good of a player to have been traded away three times (yes, I count the Leafs trading his pick for Phil Kessel).
As the period went on, things started to get very chippy. Mostly because Yanni Gourde elbowed Staal on the chin. It was a head hit that saw Gourde react and reach to get a piece of Staal, which is a big no-no. Staal left the game, but would later return in the second period after undergoing concussion protocol. Gourde was give a five-minute major for a hit to the head and was kicked out of the game.
There's no room in the game for hits like this. pic.twitter.com/Yf4uONrHup— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) March 21, 2019
The Tampa Bay Lightning don’t rush the puck in transition like most teams. Cirelli and his “Leroy Jenkins!” attitude excepted. This play was quick, crisp, and aggressive. Let’s go through this play from the vantage of each player involved.
First, Brayden Point picked up a great pass through the neutral zone by Johnson. Point crossed the blue line and dropped the puck off to Kucherov before heading to the net. From there, he was trying to get position for a rebound, but mostly to tie up Brett Pesce.
Kucherov helped get the puck out of the defensive zone and was quickly heading through the middle of the ice to catch up with Point. Once he got the drop back pass, Kucherov drew attention to himself with a spin. He actually got Brock McGinn to leave his post and track way too high.
McDonagh wasn’t skating that fast out of the zone, but once he realized Kucherov was opening him a spot at the top of the offensive zone, he put on the jets and got into position. Most defenders would just throw the puck on net knowing Point was in the area. But instead he saw that Point was getting boxed out and Johnson was coming down the far wing, wide open. McDonagh made a great move to change the angle and buy time for his teammates before throwing the puck low on net, perfect for a rebound chance.
Johnson’s first contribution to the goal came with his great pass across the neutral zone for a streaking Point. He then cruised down the right wing, getting by the distracted McGinn, and planted him right in front of the net just as McDonagh sent the puck there. It was a quick chop at the puck in the blue paint that got it up and around Curtis McElhinney, but it was plenty effective.
This goal was proof you don’t need size to play in front of the net. You need coordination, tenacity, and speed. Something the Point line has in buckets.
On the whole, the Lightning let the Hurricanes control the pace of the game, and at times, almost lulled them to sleep. At 5v5, the Bolts were behind in shot attempts (10-15), shots (5-10), but tied the Canes in scoring chances (5-5). That last stat was encouraging, meaning the team was getting to the good areas to shoot despite their shot quantity not being what they’d usually like.
After a few tense moments, including the Lightning having to kill of a Stamkos tripping penalty, Niederreiter and Aho kneeing each other by accident, and Hamilton going after Paquette with a suspicious elbow, the Hurricanes broke the tie in the second.
After returning to the game, Staal picked up a pass in transition from Teuvo Teravainen before bursting past a flat-footed Sergachev and scoring on Domingue. Most underrated player in the NHL? I think so.
It was a better period for the Lightning, who limited the Canes to only six shots on goal in the whole period, but didn’t get enough of their own to do much damage. At 5v5, the Lightning led (but mostly tied) in shot attempts (14-13), shots (6-5), and scoring chances (6-6). At least the Bolts had four shots on their two power plays.
This was a classic Cirelli goal, but it can’t be understated how good Stamkos was at holding the puck to set up the chance. He had to stop all his momentum to get the puck from Hedman on side, meaning he had to power around his defender entirely with his legs to get to the slot for the set up to Cirelli. I think Cirelli was initially hoping for he and Stamkos to drive the net hard, but instead he was allowed to hang back and time his entrance to the front of the net so that the puck was there with him.
One simply cannot deny the birthday boy. Ryan Callahan got into this game and was a very helpful figure from the fourth line. He also scored the game-winning goal with a perfectly timed drive to the slot and tip on Hedman’s low shot. Once again, chemistry and timing came into full bloom on this play.
Point extended the advantage with his league-leading 20th power play goal of the season. With Micheal Ferland in the box for tripping, Point facilitated his entire goal, starting with the zone entry and ending with him signaling to Stamkos to send him the puck after he got into the slot. A great play by him. One more goal and the 22-year-old will hit 40 goals and 90 points. The kid is on pace for a 50% increase in points this season and a 1,000% increase in salary this summer. Oh, are we not talking about that? Good, we don’t want to distract Toronto from their Marner problem.
McDonagh got his ninth goal of the year when he found a rebound created by Domingue and cleared the puck right into the empty net at the other end of the rink. The goal is McDonagh’s 40th point of the season, a feat he’s only done twice in his career (2013-14, and 2016-17).