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Lightning struggle shorthanded in 3-2 loss to Hurricanes

Special teams was the deciding factor in a close game.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

In a close game between two Stanley Cup contenders, special teams proved to be the difference in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Martin Necas and Tony DeAngelo had power play goals for the ‘Canes, while Sebastian Aho scored the game-winner at even-strength in the third period. Nick Paul scored in his Lightning debut while Alex Killorn tallied his 19th of the season with a minute left in the game.

Andrei Vasilevskiy was stellar in net stopping 38 of 41 shots to keep the game closer than it had a right to be. On the other end of the ice, Fredrik Anderson stopped 27 of 29 to pick up the win. Carolina was 2-for-4 on the power play (with both of the unsuccessful ones not full power plays). Meanwhile, Tampa was 0-for-2 with the man advantage.

For two teams that pride themselves on fast-moving, high-event hockey, the game started at a less than frantic pace. Whistles on whistles gave the first period a stuttering start. There was no real stop and go. It was just stop and stop. There were 26 total face-offs in the period as the teams were called for numerous icings, offsides, handpasses, and pucks deflected into the crowd. It wasn’t great hockey (unless you’re a fan of face-offs, of course).

As for the action in between the whistles, the Lightning had a couple of chances, the best being a backhand from Steven Stamkos with Fredrik Andersen out of position that clanked off the crossbar. Anthony Cirelli had a nice shot off of a two-on-one that Andersen swallowed up while Brayden Point’s deflection on the power power play was also stopped.

Andrei Vasilevskiy had a relatively easy period as he just had to stop seven shots on goal on 17 total attempts. The ‘Canes best chances mostly came from the perimeter and Vasy did an excellent job of directing the rebounds, when there were any, to harmless areas.

There is too much talent on both sides of the ice for that slow-paced style of game to continue all night long and things opened up in the second period. The Lightning had a couple of rushes, first with Ross Colton turning Ian Cole and getting a nice shot off as he slid on his knees. Then a two-on-one with the puck on Nikita Kucherov’s stick skittered away when the puck rolled off the heel of his blade just before he was ready to rip it on net.

Outside of those rushes, much of the play was dictated by Carolina. The School Bus Line in particular was pinned in for a lengthy amount of time with the ‘Canes working the puck around at will. Shortly after the Lightning took a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. Shortly after that Carolina scored.

Martin Necas loves scoring on the Lightning and tonight was no different. His seemingly stoppable shot eluded Vasilevskiy and found the back of the net.

Martin Necas (Ethan Bear, Seth Jarvis) Power Play, 1-0 Carolina

Nick Paul wasn’t brought in for offense, so of course he scored to tie the game. He hooked up with Ross Colton on a little give-and-go that resulted in Paul deflecting a pass from Colton up into the top corner past Andersen.

Nick Paul (Ross Colton) 1-1

So, the penalty kill. Yeah, it wasn’t great in the period. After Steven Stamkos was booked for a slashing penalty, the Hurricanes took advantage of the extra man to re-establish their lead. A Tony DeAngelo point shot managed to find its way into the goal. Originally, it looked like Vincent Trocheck tipped it, but the goal was changed to DeAngelo. Maybe it was Mikhail Sergachev’s stick that it hit?

Tony DeAngelo (Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen) Power Play, 2-1 Carolina

While the power play was perfect through two periods for Carolina, at least the Lightning held their own at even strength, right? RIGHT? Wrong. Carolina had 57.5% of the shot attempts (23-17) and 61.5% of the high danger chances (8-5). Tampa Bay did have Andrei Vasilevskiy and that helped out quite a bit.

Good job by Brandon Hagel to blunt the shot a little as well. There was a bright spot at the end of the period as the Lightning went on the power play, but their pursuit of the perfect set-up allowed the clock to expire on the period before they could capitalize.

It wasn’t a pretty start to the final frame, even with the extra skater for the Lightning. Not only did they not score, Nikita Kucherov picked up a holding penalty with just under a minute to go on the power play. Advantage wiped out. They did manage to kill off the brief power play the ‘Canes had following the four-on-four. That was nice.

The Lightning just couldn’t string a lot of productive offensive zone time together all night long. If they did get the puck into the zone, then Carolina kept them away from the danger areas and quickly swarmed to the puck. The guys in red won most of the puck battles and kept the Lightning on their heels with quick counter-rushes.

They finally beat Vasilevskiy at even strength when a rebound off of a point shot found Sebastian Aho at the side of the net. He was able to tuck it inside the post before Vasy got his skate over. A huge goal for the ‘Canes to double their lead.

Sebastian Aho (Seth Jarvis, Jacob Slavin) 3-1 Carolina

Following the goal, the Lightning had their best two chances since early in the second as Ondrej Palat found a seam in the slot, but his shot was gloved down by the Carolina netminder. Andersen then got a skate blade on a sharp angle shot by Stamkos that had a strong chance of sneaking across the the goal line.

There was a little more urgency to the Lightning’s game down by two, but by then the hockey gods had turned their backs on them. Brayden Point caused a turnover and fed the puck over to a wide open Kucherov. His shot beat Andersen, but dented the right post and stayed out.

Matching minors put the teams at four-on-four and the Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy to give the Lightning an extra skater. Patience paid off with a couple of good looks and finally a goal. Alex Killorn glided across Andersen’s field of vision just as the puck was arriving on a shot from Victor Hedman. Killorn deflected the puck into the back of the net with 59 seconds to go. How very interesting.

Alex Killorn (Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov) 3-2 Carolina

A frustrating night for Kucherov ended with him in the box as he collided with Aho off of a face-off and the refs determined it was interference on the Lightning winger. Not only did they lose the services of Kucherov, the face-off went all the way down to the Lightning end. With just 25 seconds to go there was not enough time for them to get the puck and set things up.

The two teams came together after the whistle for some idle threats and boastful talk which should lead to some fun next week when the two teams meet again in Tampa. For this one night, though, Carolina was the better team and earned their 3-2 victory.