With Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos combining for four goals, the Tampa Bay Lightning powered their way to a 6-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Four of their series. After a season of having Andrei Vasilevskiy bail them out in win after win, it was the power play (3-for-6) and the offense picking up their goaltender to put them on the brink of moving to the third round.
Brayden Point opened the scoring and Tyler Johnson had a huge goal late in the second period to tie the game. Vasilevskiy picked up his 40th career playoff win (a record for Russian-born goaltenders) while making 21 saves on 25 shots. While he had a bit of a shaky second period, he was solid in the third, stopping all 7 attempts that he faced.
On the other side of the ice, Petr Mrazek stopped 20 of 26 while Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, Jesper Fast, and Teuvo Teravainen scored for Carolina.
The game started with a little snarl as Blake Coleman and Warren Foegele were sent to the box before the puck was dropped for jousting with each other at the face-off. The four-on-four provided a good opportunity for Victor Hedman who snuck into open ice and fired a point-blank shot just wide.
Brady Skjei decided that Kucherov’s beard was a little too long and tried to take a little off with his stick. Despite Skjei heading to the box, there was actually no call on the play. Who wants to guess how well that went over with Coach Cooper?
The teams traded attacking waves following the non-call with the Lightning slowly building an advantage in terms of opportunities. Their best came courtesy of an unlikely offensive force, Pat Maroon. The amiable forward picked off a clearing pass and rumbled/steamrolled/plodded/lumbered/power-walked in on the net alone. He made a nifty move to his backhand, but Mrazek was able to fight it off.
The Lightning finally received their power play with 8:24 to go in the period when Jordan Staal rode Barclay Goodrow off the puck and was booked for hooking. The Lightning had two solid chances, a Point backhander that went wide, and a Kucherov wrister along the ice that Mrazek didn’t see until the last minute but was able to kick out with his right pad.
Mrazek had no chance a few minutes later when Erik Cernak sent Ondej Palat into the zone cleanly with a nice cross-ice pass. Palat, with his head up, spotted Brayden Point camped out in the crease and sent a pass to him that the Lightning center tapped in with ease.
Brayden Point (Ondrej Palat, Erik Cernak)
Point drew a goal-saving penalty by Andrei Svechnikov as he streaked in front of the crease after a nice bump pass by Kucherov. The power play was only successful in bleeding two minutes off of the clock as Carolina was excellent in pressuring the puck along the boards while shorthanded. Unable to find the second goal, the Bolts had to be content with a solid first period and a one-goal lead at the first intermission.
The second period started with a dominant stretch by Carolina as they kept the puck in the Lightning zone for almost two minutes. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, Svechnikov couldn’t stop fouling Point and the Lightning went back on the power play after Svech was sent off for tripping.
Like the two before it, the power play went unfulfilled and Carolina went back on the attack. This time they found the back of the net as Staal fed the puck from behind the net and Teuvo Teravainen ripped it home. Apparently, two-goal leads are just never going to happen in this series.
Teuvo Teravainen (Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov)
There may be no two-goal leads, but their are two-goal scoring streaks. Jan Rutta and Jesper Fast were battling in front of the net. The puck his Rutta in the back of the skate and Fast was able to find it and slide it past Vasilevskiy as he was falling to the ice. Two goals in 39 seconds turned a Lightning lead into a deficit.
Jesper Fast (Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin)
The Bolts weren’t done stressing their fans out at David Savard was whistled for tripping. With a head of momentum and a power play, this certainly felt like a tipping point in the game. Down a skater, the Lightning put together the best two minutes of the period and kept Carolina from extending their lead.
Jordan Martinook continued the Conga line to the penalty box as he was called for boarding after a high hit along the boards on Rutta. The power play would not be denied a fourth time. Point started it by chopping a backhand at the net that Mrazek blocked with his chest, but he couldn’t smother the rebound. Alex Killorn put the rebound off the crossbar and then the Captain, Steven Stamkos, buried the third attempt. Too much talent on that first unit.
Steven Stamkos (Alex Killorn, Brayden Point) Power Play
Before your besieged recapper could finish describing the Lightning goal, the Canes struck again. Douglas Hamilton flipped a puck on net that fluttered (maybe it was tipped) past Vasilevskiy. It may have been the slowest shot to beat Vasy this postseason.
Dougie Hamilton (Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov)
Things kept going the Canes way as Victor Hedman collided with the lineman while chasing down the puck. That allowed Carolina to keep the puck in the zone and Jaccob Slavin somehow slid a puck between Vasy and the post from an angle sharp enough to cut yourself on.
Jaccob Slavin (Cedric Paquette, Steven Lorentz)
Remember those defensive struggles in the first three games? Throw that out the window. Jake Bean interrupted Goodrow’s progress up the ice and was sent to the box. Nikita Kucherov scored on the power play. It wasn’t even his best shot on this particular skater-advantage.
Nikita Kucherov (Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman) Power Play
The power play goal seemed to light a little bit of a spark underneath the Lightning and it was our sweet, sweet, boy Tyler Johnson who tied it up. No matter his role, he scores big goals in the postseason. Honestly, Mrazek should have made the save. It was a wrister from distance that just found the bottom of the crossbar over the goaltender’s glove.
Tyler Johnson (Ross Colton, Patrick Maroon)
After seeing it on review, it looked like the puck may have changed direction off of Hamilton on it’s way to the net. Still, Mrazek probably wants it back. If you’ve lost count, that made it 4-4.
Carolina went shorthanded once again. Should they have been? Well, maybe offsetting penalties should have been called, but hey, them’s the breaks. After Victor Hedman made a nice, no, make that sublime, keep at the blueline, Kucherov found Stamkos in his office and Steven didn’t miss.
Steven Stamkos (Nikita Kucherov, Anthony Cirelli) Power Play
After all of that fun, the second period ended the same way the first did, with the Lightning leading by a goal. In a period where the Bolts were dominated at 5v5 (18-9 in shot attempts, 10-4 in scoring chances, 4-2 in high danger chances all in Carolina’s favor) they were able keep afloat and ahead thanks to their power play.
TB’s PP so far this postseason: 14-for-34.— Matthew S Esteves (@MatthewSEsteves) June 5, 2021
Is that a sustainable path to postseason success? At this point, who knows? If there is any team that can sustain those types of numbers it’s the Bolts (or maybe the Avalanche). Still, for Coach Cooper’s sake, hopefully they remember that keeping pucks out of the net is a proven strategy for winning a Stanley Cup.
The Lightning went shorthanded early in the period as David Savard crosschecked Martinook in the Tampa Bay crease. If the puck wasn’t well away from the play at the time, he probably gets away with it. There would be no goal for the Canes, in fact, the best chance came on a two-on-one for the Bolts that Blake Coleman hooked just wide.
You know who didn’t miss on a two-on-one? Nikita Kucherov.
Nikita Kucherov (Ondrej Palat)
Look, he has a top-tier shot, but Mrazek has to stop that one. Credit to Palat for causing the turnover at the Lightning blueline and then pressing the play the other way. Stamkos and Kucherov will get the headlines, but Palat had his best game of the series.
Having learned a lesson in playing with a lead in the third period in the first round against the Panthers, the Bolts did not go into a defensive shell. They kept the Carolina defense under pressure and forced the Canes to try and connect on long passes to get their offense going.
When the puck did make it into the Lightning zone, they kept it along the boards, got control and exited the puck with alacrity and precision. There was a lot of support and backchecking by the forwards.
Mrazek was finally pulled with just over two minutes to go and they were able to create a few chances. Chances that were stopped by Vasilevskiy. Two big shot blocks by Yanni Gourde at the end of the game and the Lightning emerged with the 6-4 victory. They lead the series 3-1 and have a chance to clinch on Tuesday in Carolina.