The Tampa Bay Lightning took the lead in their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a confidence-building 3-2 win in regulation. This win felt really good, and possibly gave the Lightning a blueprint for beating the Blue Jackets: namely, an unrelenting, quick, offense. After three games in the series, the Lightning lead 2-1 with Game 4 starting at 3pm on Monday afternoon.
Victor Hedman scored the game-winner, with Alex Killorn and Brayden Point also putting the puck in the net. Point was the best player on the ice for the Bolts; when he was on the ice, the Lightning took 27 shot attempts and gave up only four, which is 87% of the shot share. Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t great, but he stopped 15 of 17 shots, which was enough for the win. But honestly, looking at the timeline of the game, he didn’t really need to be that great.
The Lightning got into power play trouble early, first with Pat Maroon taking a roughing call that the Bolts killed well. Then, Nikita Kucherov made a silly, rushed, and unnecessary pass in the neutral zone to no one, and in the resulting shift in the defensive zone, Zach Bogosian got called for a penalty. About 30 seconds later, Blake Coleman took a slashing penalty on the kill, putting the Lightning down two for over a minute. Vasilevskiy had to be really good in his lateral movement, diving back and forth multiple times, but he wasn’t without support as the post stopped a couple pucks on the kill. This kind of pressure against should never have happened, they were just asking to be down a goal.
Thank god, a garbage goal! Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov stole the puck from the Blue Jackets in the neutral zone and were able to get by one defenseman to give themselves a 2-on-1 rush. Killorn had the puck on his backhand with Kucherov to his left and a defenseman diving between them. Killorn tried to sweep the puck around to Kucherov for a one-timer, but he wasn’t able to get it back enough and the puck slid into the open net. Korpisalo caught the pass and was already cheating to Kucherov so he was completely out of position to make the save.
I think there was some speculation as to whether Killorn did it on purpose, I think the puck just rolled off his stick. About time the Lightning got a break and an ugly goal!
So after a period where I was seeing a lot of problematic tendencies and a really dangerous Blue Jackets power play, the Lightning came out with a lead! Visually, it was a pretty bad period for the Lightning, who really didn’t keep the Blue Jackets to the edges all that well and weren’t threatening Korpisalo all that much in the first period. But statistically, they looked good. The Lightning were up in shot attempts (15-10), shots (8-3), but down in scoring chances (2-5) at 5v5. The Lightning also gave up five chances on their penalty kills.
The Lightning looked a lot more... I would say overwhelming in the second period. They and the puck were constantly moving, and as a result, nothing stayed static long enough for the Blue Jackets to attack and counterattack. Unfortunately they gave up a goal to Riley Nash early.
This goal kind of stung, because it happened so early in the period. Erik Cernak lost a puck battle way too cleanly and Gustav Nyquist was able to get away. He pushed the puck forward to Nash, who beat Vasilevskiy cleanly. Ideally you’d like Vasy to save that shot, but he didn’t, and it was a pretty big factor in how much that goal stung.
Brayden Point tapped in the second go-ahead goal in the game after beating Alexander Wennberg to the front of the net after a shot from Ryan McDonagh went off the shoulder of Korpisalo and back. Point won the faceoff that started this play, and thanks to the lightning (heh) quick movement from the right point to the left wall by the unit on the ice, he was able to beat any set-up defense.
VICTOR HEDMAN! Wow, this goal was really bad and Korpisalo definitely should’ve had. It was a knuckling puck from a distance by Hedman that fooled Korpisalo. This goal was started by the fourth line creating a turnover in the neutral zone with Cedric Paquette feeding Carter Verhaeghe, finally feeding Hedman for the shot as he followed up the play.
There’s a very good chance the Blue Jackets seal up the holes they revealed in the second period, but it was a damn good feeling to know they exist and the Lightning could put together a margin on them. Their goalie made mistakes on two of the three goals, and the defense wasn’t keeping up enough to cover those issues. That’s really encouraging for this series, especially if the Lightning can overwhelm them with possession, shots, and quick movements.
Like, this was so fun!
This was an unfortunate goal, as Wennberg took a shot from distance that was blocked by a host of Lightning players between them. None of them could find the puck in time before Eric Robinson grabbed it and beat Vasilevskiy from the wing. Vasilevskiy also lost the puck after it was deflected. Seemed like a classic case of puck-watching. As I’m writing this, the Lightning haven’t won or lost this game. If they lose, this goal would really suck.
The Lightning did a brilliant job following the goal that added so much pressure early on in the third. They didn’t let the Blue Jackets set up shop in their own zone, they stayed sturdy defensively but also made sure to take up as much time as they could in the offensive zone and muck things up after whistles to keep the Blue Jackets from gaining any momentum. In a word, the Lightning played annoying, and it worked.
With over a minute left, the Blue Jackets pulled their goalie. The Lightning nearly scored with the empty net one time, and again with Point with 18 seconds left in the game, but it didn’t matter because the buzzer went and the Lightning won.
- Can I say I’m optimistic? Is it possible to be against the Blue Jackets? Considering the Lightning had the lead for the better part of half the game and yet the shot balance (first chart) never wavered away from a straight line in Tampa Bay’s direction, that only says the Lightning were doing something right. All game, I was waiting for voodoo bad luck to show up, and it lifted its head a few times, but it never fell out of kilter because Tampa Bay stayed on brand and stayed focused.
- Leading early, taking quick chances even when they’re not Grade A seam passes that make the defense scramble, and holding roughly 75% of the possession seems like it works. And it’s something the Lightning can legitimately do against this team. I wrote about how the Lightning hesitating gifts the Blue Jackets chances to make stops. Being unrelenting is the key, and they did it here.
- I don’t know if this was luck or the Lightning made their luck and it won’t last, but I really hope it does. The Lightning played the same game in all three periods and after each intermission the Blue Jackets didn’t have an answer beyond a flukey goal early. One team can win on merit, the other needs luck. If the Lightning keep playing like this, they should win. They really should.
Victor Hedman: "The second and third period is the way we want to play. We made it hard on them." A recipe for success, he said. #tblightning. Vasilevskiy called early PK a "game-changer."— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) August 16, 2020