Last night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings felt like a game the Tampa Bay Lightning were destined to lose. Three unusual goals that got past Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Jonathan Quick thwarting multiple Lightning surges throughout the night gave the outcome an inevitable feel. Yet, the Lightning stuck to their process and eek’d out a win in the shootout.
This isn’t to say Tampa Bay dominated the game. Los Angeles controlled 5v5 possession 51.65% to 48.35% through all three periods. However, the Bolts had the edge in quality at 5v5 53.05% to 46.95%. Scoring chances were near even (19-17 TB’s favor) until the third period where Tampa Bay applied more pressure on the Kings. Yet, there was a slight nagging feeling that the Lightning were going to let this game slip away.
Take the first two goals for Los Angeles.
The first goal takes a wonky bounce off Vasilevskiy and right toward Jeff Carter. If I’m being critical (which I usually am), Erik Cernak does a poor job boxing Carter out on this play, which makes it even easier for Carter to put the puck in.
On the second, Vasilevskiy doesn’t even know the puck is in the net until well after the play is over. This, also, falls on Cernak for failing to clear the puck. Yes, the puck is rolling, but Cernak is more than capable of reading this situation. The only Kings forward applying pressure on him is Carter. Cernak is a big man. Why he didn’t shield the puck with his body and make a safer play we’ll never know, but he did at least get in the shooting lane to make Kyle Clifford’s shot more difficult.
As for what Braydon Coburn is doing to Dustin Brown...I have no idea. I get that Brown is a heavy player who isn’t moved easily, but Coburn does Vasilevskiy no favors here by pushing him at the moment Clifford fires this shot—it also doesn’t help that Brown jumps at this exact moment either.
I wasn’t especially fond of the Coburn-Cernak pairing last night. They looked slow and out of sync. The coaches had them as a pairing until later in the game when they were shuffled around a little—Coburn got some time with Kevin Shattenkirk while Cernak was paired with Mikhail Sergachev.
Then, out of nowhere, Tampa Bay scored two goals in 1:19 and all was well again. At least until the third Kings goal in the third period.
Having Dustin Brown in front of your goaltender unimpeded is a bold stance to take, but hey, roll the dice my friends.
A one goal lead with eight minutes left in regulation against a Lightning team that looked mostly out of it for most of the game? I’m sure Los Angeles thought they had this one in the bag, especially with how well Quick was playing.
They almost had it too, until Nikita Kucherov blasted a one-timer that made Brian Engblom yell out “WHOA” on the broadcast.
As magnificent as this shot is, I feel like there isn’t nearly enough credit given to Anthony Cirelli on this play—without him this goal doesn’t even have a chance of happening. Watch how Cirelli battles for the puck as Carter is pressing down on him and has him in a near headlock. Cirelli goes down right as he fires a pass directly to Kucherov. This is a brilliantly drawn up play by the Lightning coaching staff that is performed wonderfully by a young center who hasn’t gotten nearly as much love as he should for small plays like this.
Of course, overtime didn’t provide a winner so we had to go to the dreaded shootout, because the NHL just can’t allow us to have any kind of prolonged fun without ruining it.
Thankfully, Stamkos’s patented short side over the shoulder wrist shot is still the bane of nearly every goaltender in the league.
Going back to Cirelli for a moment brings up something that no one has really talked about this season.
Last season was about the Lightning’s top end talent absolutely dominating the league. This season we’re seeing the supporting cast rise up more than before. Cirelli, Sergachev, Alex Killorn (prepare for the implosion of Lightning twitter when he hits 20 goals), Shattenkirk, Mitchell Stephens, and Ondrej Palat have all made noticeable impacts on how the Lightning have played this season. Some have impacted the score sheet more than others, but all of them have provided a level of support to Steven Stamkos, Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy that has helped buoy the Lightning when the stars aren’t at their best.
That’s the kind of depth that teams win championships with.
It remains to be seen if this iteration of the Lightning will attain the apex of the sport this summer, but they’ve come out of the winter break as the hottest team in the league. Even on their rougher outings they can still beat just about anyone in the NHL. Games like last night showcased, yet again, that this team doesn’t quit when they’re down. They do make things hard on themselves by not starting on time (something they need to address moving forward), but anyone thinking this team will just lay down and take a loss is fooling themselves.
- Alexander Volkov registered his first NHL point with a primary assist on Alex Killorn’s 19th goal of the season. Volkov only danced around Drew Doughty before feeding a pass to Killorn. No big deal, ya know.
- The victory over Los Angeles gives Vasilevskiy nine consecutive wins. Over his last nine games Vasilevskiy has posted a .943 save percentage at all strengths (5th highest in this time frame), a GSAA of 10.47 (2nd), and a High Danger GSAA of 4.62 (3rd). The Big Cat has found his groove.
- Lightning goal scoring leader Alex Killorn (yes, you read that correctly) isn’t just going to hit 20 goals this season, he might shatter that threshold. He’s currently on pace to finish with 35. Though, we should temper our expectations for the Harvard man. He’s shooting an absurd 20% right now when his career average is 11%. He’ll definitely break 20, but hitting 35 isn’t likely. Still, we’re celebrating all the same once he gets number 20.
- Away from the Lightning, Sidney Crosby has returned for the Pittsburgh Penguins and casually put up four points—because he’s Sidney Crosby. Oh, and he made this obscene play and pass, you know, because he’s Sidney Crosby.