The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 Saturday afternoon. Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point were the goal scorers for Tampa Bay. Oskar Sundqvist scored for Detroit. Brian Elliott stopped 26 of 27 shots, while Alex Nedjelkovic stopped 34 of 36. Brian Elliott was fantastic in his first appearance since starting in a losing effort to the Edmonton Oilers on March 12th, and the anchor Tampa Bay needed to right the ship in a frustrating game for the back-to-back champs. The Lighting snapped a three-game losing and kept pace with the Boston Bruins, who dominated the New York Islanders earlier today. They will have a short turnaround as they travel to Long Island to face the New York Islanders tomorrow afternoon.
Struggling to find offense, as evidenced by the Lightning failing to score more than two goals in six out of their last eight games, coach Jon Cooper decided to reconfigure his forward lines once again to start. Today, we saw the following forward lines:
Steven Stamkos - Brayden Point- Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Anthony Cirelli - Alex Killorn
Brandon Hagel - Nick Paul - Ross Colton
Pat Maroon - Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Additionally, Ryan McDonagh was ruled out indefinitely before the game, with an upper-body injury after getting dinged up in Thursday's game against the Boston Bruins.
In theory, these lines should work quite well, and in reality, the shuffling was effective. The Lightning dictated play for most of the game but struggled to capitalize on the chances they generated—this was only magnified by playing one of the worst teams in the league. There was an excellent chance for Point set up by Kucherov that went into the chest of Nedjelkovic (something Point did repeatedly today), a partial breakaway for Cirelli that saw him get bullied off the puck from behind, a wide-open Stamkos in the slot who hesitated for a moment before having his shot be disrupted by a Red Wings defender, and Maroon whiffing on a 2-on-1 after Bellemare flipped a pass to him.
Through two periods, the game was tied, but it felt like a game the Lightning would squander. This was accentuated by the fact that Tampa Bay handled Detroit's offensive pressure well and limited the Red Wings' ability to do much of anything at 5v5. Detroit's best offensive chances came on the power-play, specifically from Lucas Raymond in the slot—the Lightning deserved better.
However, the Lightning could not get out of their own way after taking back-to-back penalties to start the third period (five throughout the entire game), Tampa Bay lacked any momentum, and, for essentially the only time all game, Detroit dictated play. It eventually led to Oskar Sundqvist beating Elliott on a relatively innocent shot from the high slot that squeaked its way through.
However, something changed after Detroit's go-ahead goal; Tampa Bay found their footing. Spearheaded by the top line, the Lightning began dominating play and forcing Detroit to scramble on nearly every offensive possession. Each line had chances to tie it up, and each opportunity fed into their desperation. There was a sense that they weren't going to lose to a team like Detroit, not after controlling play for large swaths of the game.
Eventually, Tampa Bay's pressure paid off with Philip Zadina sitting for hooking with a little more than 5 minutes left in regulation. After squandering an earlier power-play by ineffectively moving the puck, Tampa Bay made it a point to create chaos in front of Nedjelkovic. Point nearly tied it on an in-close chance, but Nedjelkovic managed to stop his chance. The next chance Tampa Bay created saw no heroics from the Red Wings goaltender.
The puck movement by the Lightning made this goal happen, as did Point's shot fake to freeze Nedjelkovic in place. Add in Stamkos deftly putting the puck in a spot that made it near impossible for Nedjelkovic to stop, and Tampa Bay found life.
That rejuvenation carried them for the remainder of regulation, but they failed to get anything past Nedjlekovic before overtime arrived. Once it turned to 3v3, Detroit barely touched the puck; the Lightning dictated everything during the extra frame, and the one time the Red Wings thought they had a chance to control the puck, Tyler Bertuzzi tripped Kucherov leading to a critical power-play for Tampa Bay.
The Lightning called their timeout to situate how they wanted to work the 4-on-3 and ended up sending out four forwards — Stamkos, Cirelli, Kucherov, and Point — to find the game-winner. After lining up Stamkos for two one-timers that didn't go in, Tampa Bay altered their approach and created chaos in front of Nedjelkovic once again.
Two things to take away from this goal: First, the smart play by Stamkos to slide toward the top of the faceoff circle and fire it toward Nedjelkovic's far side pad—Nedjelkovic is known for giving up horrid rebounds in front and requires an active defense to clear pucks away. The second thing to take away is Point's positioning; he placed himself exactly where he needed to be to capitalize on Nedjelkovic's poor rebound control. Jordan Oesterle does next to nothing to tie up Point and effectively makes himself a pylon by positioning himself in front of Point. My guess is the Lightning drew up two plays to win the game here, and after Stamkos couldn't score on two one-timers, they decided to opt for the second play drawn up.
Regardless, Tampa Bay found a way to win, snapped their losing streak, and can feel good about themselves once again. They're going to need confidence moving forward; in their remaining 18 games, they will play a playoff eight times. Given how inconsistent they've been against better competition this season, the time is now to iron out the kinks and be in playoff mode.