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Morning After Thoughts: Lightning take advantage of Panthers penalties in Game One

Got the first one out of the way.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Lightning took a 1-0 series lead in the second round of the NHL Playoffs with a 4-1 victory on the road over the Florida Panthers. These are my thoughts on the game.

Come home at least 1-1

Before the series against the Leafs, I said the goal for the first two games was to come home at least 1-1 in the series. When you don’t have home ice advantage in a series, you really need to take one of the first two games on the road. If you’re able to win your first two games at home and one of those first two road games, you’ve given yourself a 3-1 lead and only need to win one more game of the next three, including one game at home. On the other hand, if you go down 0-2 and then get back to 2-2 after your two home games, you’re still going to have to win at least one game on the road.

Much better to get that done early in the series. If you win one of those first two on the road and then every other game is won by the home team? You win the series. Then if you lose at home, that’s another game you have to win on the road.

By taking the first game, the Lightning are now playing with house money in Game Two. They’ve guaranteed that they’ll go into Game Three at home no worse than 1-1. They can go at Game Two a little more free and it’s not as big of a blow if they lose that one since they already have one in the bank.

Slow Starts Continue

The slow starts for the Lightning have continued. It’s long been an issue that has plagued this team for years and years and years. The start of the period was pretty slow for both teams and the Lightning picked up two quick power plays that they were unable to capitalize on. I’ll come back to the power play in the next section.

After the second power play in the first period, the Panthers started pushing and eventually got the first goal of the game on a pass to the back side that Andrei Vasilevskiy was unable to get across into a good position to stop. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Lightning finished the 1st period with 29.44% Fenwick For Percentage and 25.99% of the xG share. They got outshot, and out chanced at 5v5.

The second period went a little bit better for the Lightning, with them notably playing a little better defense. In the second period, their FF% went to 31.8% and their xGF% went to 40.64%. When a team’s xGF% is higher than their FF%, it means the team was more dangerous than their opponent, since xG are only calculated on unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick).

The Lightning also played well on two Panthers power plays in the second period, which has struggled mightily so far in the playoffs and has yet to score. The Lightning will want to stay out of the box as much as they can though because there’s so much talent there you’re asking for trouble. The Lightning wrapped up the period getting a power play goal from Corey Perry off a beautiful Nikita Kucherov rush and pass and then finished the period on the power play.

The third period, the Lightning were able to flip the script on the Panthers. They finished the third period with a FF% of 58% and xGF% of 68.34%. They were dangerous in the chances that they created and they did a great job of limiting the quality of the Panthers’ chances. Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare combined early in the third period to win a faceoff with help from Pat Maroon for Perry to take a shot and Bellemare to fire in the go ahead, and eventual game winning, goal.

The last five minutes of the third period you can’t draw a lot of 5v5 conclusions on because the Lightning were either on the power play or the Panthers had the net empty. Kucherov added a power play goal through a screen. That goal was challenged for goaltender interference and allowed to stand. Ross Colton added the final goal on the ensuing power play and the Lightning finished it up 4-1.

For the whole game, the Lightning had a FF% of 41.19% and and xGF% of 50.06% at 5v5 (Score and Venue Adjusted). Still not the greatest stats because they allowed the Panthers to control the puck a lot at 5v5, but they did a great job of defending, and blocking shots at key times and carried over that effort from game seven in the first round.

In all situations, the Lightning had 3.8 xGF and the Panthers had 3.43 xGF.

The Power Play

Without Brayden Point, the first power play unit has a glaring weakness; zone entries. Point and Kucherov generally were the key puck carriers for the first unit to enter the zone. Hedman occasionally will make the entry himself, but he mostly relied on those two to do so. With Point out, that puts more of a load on Kucherov to do it himself. That invites the Panthers to key in on him. This means that Hedman is going to have to carry the puck in more, as well as finding ways to get Steven Stamkos, Killorn, and Perry to get zone entries more often as well.

The first two power plays really struggled with those zone entries, as well as winning faceoffs. Anthony Cirelli was taking a lot of the power play faceoffs and didn’t do well at first. The first power play goal came from Kucherov entering the zone with speed, making a great deke to get clear and then passing to Perry on the other side.

The last two power plays did a much better job of getting zone entries as well as winning faceoffs. If you get too predictable on the zone entries, you’re going to have a bad time. And like Toronto, the Panthers like to get on the shorthanded rushes and we saw how that can be a problem in the Toronto series.

Gotta score at even strength

The Panthers were fairly undisciplined in this game. The Lightning got six power play opportunities, though one did come from an unsuccessful goaltender interference challenge near the end of the game. The Lightning took three goals from those six power play opportunities, two by the first unit and one by the second unit.

However, the Lightning only managed one even strength goal and that came from the fourth line. With Brayden Point out of the line-up, and his potential for a return unknown, the Lightning need to find a way to produce at even strength. You can’t rely on the power play to power you through a game. While the refs have shown they are more prone to giving out penalties so far in these playoffs than we’re used to, you can’t count on it. Score consistently at even strength, and you’re going to go further in the playoffs.

Vasilevskiy showed up in Vasilevskiy form

Ok, so. Real talk. Vasilevskiy was very average in the first round. Even with his stellar game seven, he finished just below 0.00 Goals Saved Above Expected according to Evolving-Hockey.com. This continued a trend from the latter part of the season where he was looking average for the last month and a half or so. He’d trade off some good games with some bad games.

Last night though, he was sharp. The first goal was a bit rough. The defense didn’t do a very good job of challenging the puck carrier, but also when Vasilevskiy made the move to the other post, he was in time. However, his skate went inside the post which gave a little more room to bank the puck in, plus room up high. With a little better move to the post, he might have made the save. But other than that small mistake, he was sharp all night and I thought he was the best player on the ice for the Lightning for most of the game.

Random Notes and Thoughts

  • Cal Foote didn’t play for much of the second half of the second period and the start of the third period. I’m not sure what was going on there, but the Lightning were playing 11/7. But...
  • Part of why that doesn’t make sense is that Erik Cernak left the game after blocking a shot with his back on the penalty kill in the second period. It’s unclear why Foote was being benched, though he did have a bad turnover in the second that led to a great chance for the Panthers. So the Cernak injury may have forced the coaches to put him back in instead of benching him for the rest of the game.
  • With his two points on the night, Nikita Kucherov has pulled into a tie with Phil Esposito for 39th most career points in the playoffs. His 90th career playoff assist also moves him into a tie for 35th most career assists in the playoffs with Brad Park.
  • My three stars of the game were Vasilevskiy, Perry, and Kucherov. The media’s three stars of the game were Vasilevskiy, Kucherov, and Perry.