Nikita Kucherov scored with less than a minute to play in the game as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the San Jose Sharks, 4-3 in an early afternoon tilt on Saturday. Victor Hedman, Ross Colton, and Alex Killorn also tallied for the Lightning as they finished their West Coast trip with a 2-1 record and moved over .500 for the first time this season. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 24 saves on 27 shots.
Well, now. That was one way to start things off. Brayden Point carried it through all three zones, Kucherov drove the net to clear the slot and Hedman, as the trailer, flipped a shot past James Reimer. Another zero is deleted from the goals scored column as Hedman picked up his first goal of the season.
Victor Hedman (Brayden Point) 1-0 Lightning
His country mate (and fellow pirate) answered less than a minute later. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Lightning turned the puck over in their own zone. Tomas Hertl outmuscled Alex Killorn and then disrupted Stamkos’ centering pass to Nick Paul. Erik Karlsson was just kind of standing in the right spot and wristed it past by Vasilevskiy. Just too easy for the home team.
Erik Karlsson (Tomas Hertl) 1-1
The next nine minutes was straight out of the early season woes playbook for the Lightning. They had issues getting the puck out of the zone with any momentum. When Coach Cooper talks about the offense starting in the defensive this was a clinic on how the opposite is true - lack of offense can come from a failure to start in their own zone. Too many dump outs and unconnected passing attempts. The good news is that they did maintain their structure pretty well in their own zone and San Jose wasn’t able to take advantage of the pressure.
Midway through the period, the top line changed things as Erik Cernak hit Kucherov on a long pass and the they were able to cycle through a few chances. The second line followed with a good shift as well and then the a power play was awarded to the Lightning. Just as it expired, Ross Colton knocked down a rebound and put it home after some nice work by the second unit. With his second marker of the season, Colton snapped a six-game goalless streak.
Ross Colton (Alex Killorn, Brandon Hagel) 2-1 Lightning
It was a little disconcerting that Victor Hedman was in the locker room for the entire power play. Nor would he return for the penalty kill that followed Colton’s goal. The Lightning managed to kill it off without too much trouble (zero shots on goal for San Jose). The Big Swede did return following the final TV timeout of the first period and played the rest of the game without any sign of injury.
The Lightning did close out the period strong (with Stamkos on the top line and Hagel on the second) and were able to come out ahead in the possession battle with a 8-5 edge in scoring chances and a 4-1 advantage in high-danger chances at 5v5.
The Sharks started things off with an advantage in shots, but it seemed like the Lightning had things in hand. Aside from an early attempt by Karlsson that looked like it glanced off the post, most of the chances were easily dealt with. Some sloppy play led to the Sharks tying things up, though. First the Lightning weren’t able to clear a puck. Then, with San Jose changing their lines and basically a free chance to clear the puck, Erik Cernak sent a wayward pass through the neutral zone. The Sharks recovered it and had an easy entry that led to Nico Sturm sniping a shot past Vasilevskiy. Pretty sure that’s going to come up in the next film session under the “don’t do that again” section.
Nico Strurm (Luke Kunin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic) 2-2
The goal woke the Lightning up a bit and they started to skate like they cared a little more. A solid shift by the second line (reunited with Stamkos) had the Sharks out of sorts but Nick Paul’s shot found iron instead of netcord.
A fantastic rush by Kucherov almost led to a goal as he danced into the zone, went wide on a wrap around attempt, was denied, but backhanded a pass to Cernak in the slot who hammered it right into Reimer’s chestplate.
On the next shift, the Lightning regained the lead. Cernak and Paul gummed up play in the neutral zone. Paul bounced a pass of the side boards that spring Alex Killorn who slipped it through the five-hole for the goal.
Alex Killorn (Nick Paul, Erik Cernak) 3-2 Lightning
Much like the first period, the Sharks had the better run of play early in the period, but the Lightning closed strong. Scoring chances were 10-8 in favor of the Bolts in the middle frame, with the Sharks squeaked out a 5-4 edge in high-danger opportunities.
Entering today’s game the San Jose Sharks had scored a whooping one goal in the third period while conceding ten. After an early rush by the second line, the Lightning did their best early in the period to change those stats, allowing three early scoring chances.
A penalty to Victor Hedman didn’t make things better. At least the penalty kill was brief. The Sharks won the face-off and Erik Karlsson glided into a shooting position. With traffic in front of Vasilevskiy the shot from the veteran defenseman entered the back of the net uncontested and the game was once again tied.
Erik Karlsson (Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl) Power Play 3-3
As they did in the second period, the Lightning did right the ship a bit after the goal, but despite some zone time couldn’t pull back ahead. An offensive zone penalty by Kucherov led to another power play for the Sharks and while they didn’t score, there was a “Katie, bar the door” feel to the kill for the Lightning special unit as San Jose managed three scoring chances and two shots on goal during the hectic two minutes.
Still, it goes in the book as a success, and the Lightning are able to put their top line on the ice following it. Brayden Point did Brayden Point things, using his speed to cause chaos in the offensive zone and it led to a Lightning power play, their first since the first period. the first unit got the look they wanted as Kucherov unloaded a shot that Reimer fought off with his glove.
With time winding down, talent won out. The Lightning were pinned a little in their zone, but Point got the puck and busted down the ice. He slammed on the breaks, held it, held it, held it, then found Hagel on the far side of the ice. Brandon Hagel sent it right back to the front of the net where Kucherov was parked to tap it in with just 56.2 seconds left on the game clock.
Nikita Kucherov (Brandon Hagel, Brayden Point) 4-3 Lightning
Stamkos just missed an empty net and Mikhail Sergachev, who led the Lightning in ice time, made a nice play to break up a back door pass with Timo Meier lurking in close. It would be harsh to say the Lightning escaped with a win, but it was a lot closer than it should have been.
San Jose played well in the third period, controlling the 5v5 scoring chances (7-5) and high-danger chances (5-2), but it was the Lightning that found the back of the net when it counted.
They will have a couple of days off before hosting the Ottawa Senators at home on Tuesday.