The Tampa Bay Lightning started the game with a very disassembled line-up. In addition to Jan Rutta and Ryan McDonagh, Steven Stamkos was out due to a lower body injury, which was apparently bothering him for a long time. Pat Maroon was also given a rest with an unspecified injury and Blake Coleman was on a paternity leave with his wife who’s expecting a child. In their absence the Lightning went with a 11/7 roster.
The Lightning seemed fine through the first two periods. The Blackhawks had a slight advantage in the first period but the Bolts stayed careful on their end and managed to return to their style of play in the second period, when they scored a goal. They doubled the score in the opening second of the third period, but were completely destroyed in the remaining part of the game.
The power play remains a problem for the Lightning. The coaching staff tried to shake things up at the start of the game but it didn’t help and by the end of the game it was returned to the old combination. Double-shifting Nikita Kucherov on the power play was also not a successful choice. The penalty kill looked better than in previous games, but eventually allowed a goal in the third period that seemingly put the game out of reach.
As for goalies, Corey Crawford outplayed Curtis McElhinney. Crawford stopped 36 out of 38 shots and was deservedly one of the better players for his team.
The Lightning’s losing streak extended to four games, the longest for the team during this season. Hopefully the team has a short memory and can quickly get back on track.
After five minutes of the game both teams went on a pretty long stretch of power play opportunities. First the Lightning went on power play when Mitchell Stephens drew a slashing by Connor Murphy. The Stephens line made a pretty good effort before that call, locking down the Blackhawks in their crease and earning the power play.
In Stamkos’ absence, the PP got a new look. The main difference was Nikita Kucherov who took an unusual spot for him in the left circle, while Brayden Point was running the right circle. Mikhail Sergachev got a role of a lone defenceman on that power play, quarterbacking this unit from the blue line. They made a couple of terrific plays during these two minutes but couldn’t get the puck into the net.
The Blackhawks got their power play chance almost immediately when the Lightning PP ended. This time it was Yanni Gourde who went to the box after being called for tripping. Chicago couldn’t finish the power play as it was interrupted by a penalty by Patrick Kane.
Overall both teams spent about ten minutes with a man advantage, the referees called six penalties during the first period. The Lightning penalty kill looked solid, but their power play struggled due, in part to the absence of Steven Stamkos. Eventually Kucherov returned to the right circle, but it didn’t help. By the third Lightning PP in this period, the Blackhawks managed to pressure the Bolts and kept them out of the zone, forcing them into making inaccurate passes.
At 5v5 the Blackhawks controlled the game in every components. They led the Lightning in shot attempts (12-10), high dangerous chances (3-0) and expected goals (0.32-0.25)
The Lightning managed to change the direction of the game in the second period. Within the flow of the game they continued to increase the pressure on the Blackhawks net and in the end it paid off with Brayden Point’s goal during the last five minutes of the period. He scored it basically all by himself, received the puck in front of the net, couldn’t handle it at first and made a small round on the left side of the zone, exchanging the puck with Victor Hedman and then firing it past Corey Crawford.
While the power play still went scoreless, the Lightning still looked strong on the penalty kill. Alex Killorn had a great chance shorthanded in opening minutes of the second period. During the next penalty kill it was Stephens who intercepted a pass at blue line and kept the Blackhawks out of the Lightning zone.
Stephens and Verhaeghe deserve a special mention here, they didn’t play that much, but were always at the right place and kept making effective plays during their time on the ice. Verhaeghe had a solid scoring chance shortly before a Brayden Point’s goal, when he rushed through a zone, beating a defender on his way, but was robbed by Crawford.
At the end of the second period, the Lightning outshot the Blackhawks 20-9 at 5v5 and a took an overall lead in shot attempts 30-21. They also had a 2-0 lead in high dangerous chances
The Lightning scored the second goal of the game early in the third period. Ondrej Palat and Sergachev won the battle for the puck along the boards and then Point made a diagonal pass through the zone to Kucherov who scored on an empty net, while Crawford was out of position.
The Blackhawks answered twice in row four minutes later, tying the game. The first goal came after an unfortunate rebound, when Stephens lost the puck between his own legs and Zach Bogosian couldn’t cover it, letting Brandon Saad score. Thirty seconds later Dominik Kubalik appeared in front of the Lightning’s net after Kane’s pass, McElhinney denied the first shot but couldn’t do anything on the second attempt.
The Blackhawks didn’t stop there, with ten minutes left in the game Slater Koekkoek got his name on the scoreboard. The former Lightning player retrieved the puck along the boards, skated toward the middle of the ice and fired the puck past McElhinney, scoring his first goal of the season.
The Lightning couldn’t recover after three quick goals and after surviving five penalty kills, finally allowed a goal on the sixth opportunity, which came after a very questionable penalty call. Nikita Kucherov was called for slashing, despite Kane clearly hooking him before and Kucherov was just trying to free himself. On that PP Kubalik made the lead 4-2, scoring an one-timer from the right circle.
The Lightning pulled the goalie with three minutes to go in the period, but the Blackhawks forced them to make a mistake and let Kubalik complete his first career hat-trick in the NHL. A very depressing loss for the Lightning who couldn’t save a 2-0 lead in the third period.
Brayden Point (Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov): 1-0
Nikita Kucherov (Brayden Point): 2-0
Brandon Saad (Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach): 2-1
Dominik Kubalik (Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith): 2-2
Slater Koekkoek: 2-3
Dominik Kubalik (Duncan Keith, Alex DeBrincat): 2-4
Dominik Kubalik (Brandon Saad): 2-5