A heightened pace has been the defining characteristic of the season series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks, and today’s game stuck to script. Tampa Bay took advantage of the opportunities provided en route to a 4-1 win as Andrei Vasilevskiy won his 11th consecutive start to tie Louis Domingue’s franchise record. Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, and Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning. Alex DeBrincat scored for Chicago. Vasilevskiy stopped 30 of 31 shots for his NHL leading 20th win. Malcolm Subban stopped 22 of 25 shots.
Chicago held a slight edge in control during the opening minutes, but that only slowed Tampa Bay for a short time before their forecheck and aggression eventually took hold.
The Lightning top line went to work as Brayden Point forced play below the Chicago net before outmaneuvering Subban down low and tucking the puck around the netminder for his 12th of the season.
Tampa Bay proceeded to dictate the pace for the next several minutes, including a power-play opportunity at 7:29 with Calvin de Haan in the box for tripping. Unfortunately, the Lightning failed to convert on the power-play, but their five-on-five play continued to pin Chicago in their defensive zone. It didn’t manifest in goals thanks to the strong play of Subban.
All of the pressure Tampa Bay generated quickly dissipated as the period waned as Chicago started tilting the ice heavily in their favor in the final six minutes. The Blackhawks repeatedly got in close on Vasilevskiy and forced the Russian netminder to make some key saves to keep Tampa Bay’s lead.
A late penalty to Jan Rutta for hooking put the Lightning on the penalty kill to finish the period, and this was where the Blackhawks got some of their most dangerous chances. Tampa Bay’s penalty kill, and Vasilevskiy, managed to stem Chicago’s surge to end the period up by one, but if the Lightning wanted to reassert their dominance they were going to need a strong start to open the second.
A strong start? Say no more.
After Yanni Gourde and Alex DeBrincat were called for matching cross-checking penalties just 15 seconds into the period, Tampa Bay put on a clinic on Cirelli’s goal. The puck control and movement by the Lightning reminded everyone how suspect the Blackhawks really are. It was almost child’s play how easily Tampa Bay contorted Chicago’s defense here. Subban was left high and dry on this goal.
The assist for Mikhail Sergachev on the second #TBLightning goal marked the 100th of his career— Lightning Insider (@Erik_Erlendsson) March 20, 2021
Tampa Bay’s pressure didn’t wilt immediately after going up by two. They continued to attack in the offensive zone, but eventually, Chicago managed to force play into the Lightning zone off a bad line change by Tampa Bay. It also led to a tripping penalty on Barclay Goodrow which put Chicago back on the power-play at 6:09.
Matters got worse as Erik Cernak was penalized for a delay of game penalty just 37 seconds into the penalty kill. The ensuing 5-on-3 saw Chicago generate a few dangerous chances, but Vasilevskiy and the penalty kill stood tall to kill both penalties.
Chicago’s pressure didn’t relent for the next 10 minutes as they repeatedly pinned Tampa Bay in the defensive zone and peppered Vasilevskiy with 11 straight shots over that time frame.
Unfortunately, for Chicago, all it took was one bad bounce for Tampa Bay to extend their lead.
The bad luck that plagued his goal-scoring last season has evaporated this year, and the Lightning has to be ecstatic his scoring has kicked back up to the levels they expect.
Chicago’s best opportunity of the period came off a Patrick Kane breakaway after Nikita Zadorov connected on a beautiful stretch pass. Vasilevkiy denied Kane on this chance, and one wonders what Chicago’s mental state was after their best player couldn’t even score on a golden opportunity.
Chicago’s misery wouldn’t end there as Connor Murphy was called for holding at 18:10 after a great chance from Stamkos was saved by Subban
Nearly every good chance Tampa Bay has generated has turned into a goal today. Chicago’s sheer disarray in the defensive zone was on full display here as the Captain put home his 15th of the season.
Tampa Bay would close the period on the penalty kill as Pat Maroon was called for roughing with 46.5 seconds left. Taking unnecessary penalties is still the biggest blemish this team has.
The Lightning dictated much of the opening minutes of the third period, but all it took was one good look for DeBrincat to ruin Vasilevskiy’s shutout bid.
Surprisingly, this goal didn’t provide a lot of momentum for Chicago. Tampa Bay resumed dictating much of the pressure as the period continued. They generated multiple chances on Subban including a slew on a power-play after Reese Johnson was called for tripping near the midway point of the period.
The remainder of the period saw the Lightning limit Chicago’s offensive surges and keep the puck in the offensive zone more consistently than the first two periods. It was a stark difference from the first two periods where it felt like Tampa Bay was more opportunistic than downright better than Chicago.