Four straight games against the Carolina Hurricanes, three consecutive wins for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay wasn’t their best tonight, but they weathered the storm, received timely goals, and frustrated Carolina en route to a 3-1 victory. Mikhail Sergachev, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow scored for the Lightning. Brett Pesce scored for the Hurricanes. Curtis McElhinney shone in this one when he stopped 31 of 32 shots for his first win against his former team, and James Reimer stopped 20 of 22 shots.
After starting the previous two games with an aggressive mindset predicated on quick passing and decision making, the Lightning reverted back to a team making too many mistakes and trying to do too much. The pace between the two teams remained blistering, but it was Carolina who dictated the flow of the period.
The puck management and sound play Tampa Bay embodied from the previous two games evaporated under the relentless pressure from Carolina. Add in the mistakes the Lightning took upon themselves with missed passes and shots, peculiar decision making, and three putrid power-plays, it is no surprise Carolina dominated the first period.
The Hurricanes controlled 61% of the shot attempts at 5v5, out-chanced Tampa Bay 3-0 in high danger opportunities, won the quality battle 73% to 24%, and flustered the Lightning into a myriad of miscues.
The Lightning was fortunate Carolina managed just one goal in the period.
This goal embodied the entire issue the Lightning had in the opening 20 minutes. Poor puck management by Ondrej Palat after entering the offensive zone, poor decision making by Erik Cernak and Ryan McDonagh in their positioning, and Tampa Bay being far too behind in the play to make any real difference. The only Lightning player to position himself adequately here was Blake Coleman desperately trying to stop the royal road pass—it did not work.
The good thing is hockey consists of three periods and they were only trailing by a goal. If the Lightning could reset themselves and get back to the style of hockey they know wins games (and championships), then it would be entirely within their ability to turn this game around.
The good news: it was an overall better period for the Lightning, and they scored. The bad news: the issues that plagued them in the first period were still present. Tampa Bay managed to keep things relatively close at 5v5, controlling 54% of the shot attempts. However, in all situations, Carolina dominated the period, controlling 61% of the shot attempts and winning the quality battle 70% to 30%. This was thanks to two putrid power-plays by Tampa Bay. The Hurricanes dictated everything; they even outshot Tampa Bay on one opportunity.
At 5v5, the pace was still heightened and the Lightning managed to apply more pressure on James Reimer, but it still felt like Carolina was in control.
At least, until one Lightning player made a play.
Surprisingly, this is Mikhail Sergachev’s first goal of the season. Nonetheless, he caught Reimer off guard with this shot as it snuck underneath his blocker and into the net. It wasn’t the prettiest goal, but it counted nonetheless.
After the goal, Tampa Bay didn’t utilize the momentum as expected. The next few shifts saw them revert back to fumbling passes and loose pucks. It led to a bevy of chances for Carolina that saw McElhinney make save after save to keep the game tied.
The one shining light of the period lay in the strength of the Lightning power-play. Tampa Bay took three penalties during the second, and each time they shut down Carolina’s offense. The only power-play that saw the Hurricanes maintain pressure was the last one, during which Coleman snapped his stick, thus creating a pseudo-5-on-3. The Lightning’s tenacity and unwillingness to quit on any loose puck predicated their success on the penalty kill.
By extension, that same tenacity is what kept them in the game until this point. As disjointed and mistake-prone as they’d been through two periods, they were still in a tied game thanks to strong goaltending and an unwillingness to quit.
The question was, would it be enough in the third period?
Opening the period with over a minute on a power-play did little to help Tampa Bay’s chances as Carolina’s penalty kill continued to shut them down. However, that did not stop the Lightning from being aggressive and controlling the puck more effectively in the offensive zone.
There were still some mental lapses highlighted by a 2-on-1 that saw McElhinney bail them out once again. But by and large, the way Tampa Bay started this period was more encouraging than the previous two. Eventually, Tampa Bay pushed back and started generating good chances of their own, highlighted by an in-close opportunity by Nolan Foote setup by Yanni Gourde.
Gourde would cause another problem for Carolina a few shifts later.
Stretch passes like the one Hedman connected here are a secret weapon that the Lightning hasn’t utilized as often as in previous years, but on this goal it was textbook. He hit Gourde in stride and the shot afterward was perfectly placed to kiss the top left corner of the net where Reimer couldn’t reach it. This goal was cathartic for Gourde, who was magnificent in this game at both ends of the ice (especially on the penalty kill) but hadn’t found the back of the net in seven games. Needless to say, he found his scoring touch at just the right time.
From this point forward Carolina reverted to the same style they had in the third period from last night. All out aggression and desperation to tie the game. Even after a power-play and forcing the Lightning into several icings, they couldn’t break through.
Just as they did throughout their championship run, Tampa Bay locked down the defensive zone and limited the number of quality chances by the Hurricanes. The Lightning will allow volume in situations like this, but they’ve been surprisingly consistent at keeping the quality chances against low. Whenever a defensive breakdown did occur, McElhinney was there to thwart it.
With 1:48 left in regulation, Carolina pulled Reimer for an extra attacker, but just like last night, Barclay Goodrow had something to say about it.
This game was a reminder. Not just to the fanbase, but to an aspiring team like Carolina. This is a championship Lightning team that knows how to win in multiple manners. They did it en route to the Stanley Cup, and they did it again tonight after being outplayed for the vast majority of the game.
It didn’t matter how sloppy or disjointed they seemed. Tampa Bay knew that if they kept the game close they could win it, and that's exactly what they did. McElhinney had a spectacular game in net to keep the team alive and timely goals from Sergachev and Gourde were all the team needed to secure two more points from a division rival.
The horrid display on the power-play is something that needs to be addressed. Carolina is a strong penalty-killing team, but the failed entries and poor decision-making are indicative of Tampa Bay’s mentality in those situations. It also highlights how dearly this team misses Nikita Kucherov, his creativity and playmaking ability is the heartbeat of the Lightning power-play. They’ve managed without him, but against top-tier penalty kills they are going to have to adjust some things to ensure they are not hindered moving forward.
Still, two points is two points. Take them and run.