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Three cheers for shutouts as Lightning lock down Hurricanes, 3-0

This one was never in question

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Three games in a row against the Carolina Hurricanes, two wins for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay shut down Carolina this evening with a suffocating effort that saw the Hurricanes struggles to maintain offensive pressure until the game was well within hand for the Bolts. Ross Colton opened the scoring on his second NHL shift with his first NHL goal. Blake Coleman extended the lead on the power-play, and Barclay Goodrow sealed the game late in regulation with an empty-net goal. Andrei Vasilevskiy earned his first shutout of the season with a 25-save performance.

First Period

The aggression and pace from the last game’s opening period were readily apparent in tonight’s first period. Both Tampa Bay and Carolina pushed the pace for the opening five minutes with neither team edging the other out in terms of control. However, as the period continued, the Lightning wrested control away and pinned the Hurricanes in their own zone for long stretches of time.

Tampa Bay executed this by utilizing the points and boards to cycle the puck around to confuse and frustrate Carolina. Eventually, the pressure paid off.

The exchange at the top of the zone is what gets Carolina into trouble. As Alex Killorn drops a pass for Victor Hedman they catch three Hurricanes players up high. Hedman realizes this and uses his speed and size to maneuver himself into a dangerous area. Colton reads the situation and plants himself in front of the net. Hedman fakes out Alex Nedeljkovic, carries the puck behind the net, and feeds a backhand pass to Colton. The rookie, who was only on his second shift, stuffs it underneath the Carolina netminder and secures his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot.

You love to see it.

After the goal, there was a small surge by Carolina, but the pressure generated did not amount to anything dangerous. The Lightning reasserted themselves and maintained consistent pressure on Carolina’s defense.

For well over six minutes play did not stop as Tampa Bay’s control dictated the pace with Carolina trying to counterattack in small spurts. It wasn’t until the final five minutes that the Hurricanes managed to consistently dictate the pace. Then a hooking penalty on Brock McGinn put Tampa Bay on the power-play with 3:41 left in the period.

For the first minute of this man advantage, the top unit tried to establish themselves, but Carolina’s aggressive penalty kill forced poor passes and decision-making. Given the Hurricanes' aggression, the Lightning needed to adjust by making a concerted effort to make quick passes and decisions to catch Carolina off guard.

Then this sequence followed.

Quick passing and decision-making always thwart aggressive defenders and it was on full display here. It starts with Mikhail Sergachev wiring a pass to Pat Maroon who smartly tap- passes it to an in-stride Yanni Gourde. This catches Carolina sleeping as their entire penalty kill is now locked on Gourde. Coleman reads the situation and drives into the empty space in the high slot where Gourde connects with him on a centering feed that goes past Nedeljkovic for the 2-0 lead.

Overall, Tampa Bay controlled 52% of the shot attempts at 5v5, won the quality battle 61% to 39%, and out-chanced Carolina 9-4 in the first period. However, Carolina led in high danger chances 2-1. The overall process of the Lightning’s period was promising and something they should aim to replicate as often as possible.

Second Period

The second period was dominated by Tampa Bay until the final five minutes. During the final five minutes, Carolina generated six of their seven shots and the vast majority of their pressure. Even with that surge, the Lightning dictated play in the period.

Tampa Bay controlled 58% of the shot attempts at 5v5, won the quality battle 65% to 35%, out-chanced Carolina 10-6, and generated more high danger chances 5-2.

The highlights of the period came from the Lightning with two 2-on-1s, a breakaway, a sterling individual effort, and a fantastic penalty kill. The first came with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat where Palat felt he scored after Nedeljkovic slid into the net with the puck. However, upon review, the no-goal call on the ice stood as the officials judged the play to be goaltender interference.

The second 2-on-1 came on the penalty kill as Hedman and Gourde raced down the ice. Unfortunately, Hedman missed the net with his shot. The breakaway came from Gourde on the penalty kill but he was thwarted by Nedeljkovic. Gourde stood out once again with a vintage Gourde play as he spun around a defender in the corner and powered his way toward the front of the net for a dangerous scoring chance. Lastly, there was the penalty kill that weathered an early push from Carolina before neutralizing any semblance of offense from the Hurricanes.

If the Lightning continues this style and pace for the third period, this might be the best overall game of the season for them.

Third Period

The final frame saw the Lightning not so much take their foot off the gas, rather, they focused on managing the puck while maintaining the offensive pressure in key spots. The Hurricanes went into full desperation mode with their approach, spearheaded by head coach Rod Brind’Amor shuffling his lines to start the period.

This gave the Hurricanes a much-needed spark as their offensive pressure started to force Tampa Bay back. That didn’t matter thanks to the strong defensive work by the Lightning and stellar play of Vasilevskiy.

If Vasilevskiy keeps playing the way he is, he’s going to run away with a second Vezina trophy. His play this season has been the best of his career, and a further reminder of how lucky Tampa Bay is to have, arguably, the best goaltender in the league.

Carolina continued to up their pressure as the period waned including pulling their goalie with three minutes left in regulation. The Lightning was up to the task as they thwarted the Hurricanes time and time again before the pressure relented and Tampa Bay capitalized on the empty net.

The final period is lopsided from an analytical perspective, but only from the shot attempt department. Carolina controlled 71% of the shot attempts at 5v5 but found themselves tied in the quality battle at 50%. Usually, Carolina’s motif is to control both of these during a game, but the Lightning did a spectacular job limiting their ability to generate dangerous chances.

Post-Game Thoughts

Colton getting his first career goal is fantastic, but the bigger thing I took from this game was how Tampa Bay refused to let Carolina do anything they wanted until the game was already in hand. The Hurricanes didn’t establish consistent zone pressure until the halfway point of the third period. From a process perspective, that’s phenomenal.

That said, the Lightning was sloppy with their passing in certain areas. Specifically, in their own end where they made numerous blind passes that were picked off by Carolina forwards. Tampa Bay did a good job recovering, but avoiding situations like that, in general, would be the preferable approach.

With the NHL utilizing this more baseball scheduling approach of mini-series throughout the season, it’s interesting to see how well Tampa Bay adjusted from their first two games compared to the most recent two. The team lamented on “not playing their game” enough, but the contrast between the first two games to the past two is stark. If this version of the Lightning consistently comes out onto the ice, then I don’t think any team has a chance of beating them in the playoffs.