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Morning After Thoughts: Vasilevskiy steals Game Two in Sunrise

He was lights out.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers - Game Two Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Game Two of the second round series with the Florida Panthers started off with a lot of physicality. The Tampa Bay Lightning did their best to defend throughout the game and protect a 1-0 lead after the first period, but for much of it they were stifled by the Panthers. It was a really fortunate play that Nikita Kucherov was able to set up Ross Colton for the game winner with 3.8 seconds to go in the third period to prevent the game from going to overtime.

I have some thoughts about the game, and here they are.

Vasilevskiy Showed up in Vasilevskiy Form... Again

All through the first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it felt like we kept waiting for Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal a game. No matter how good of a team you are, you often need your goaltender to steal one here or there when the other team is on their game and you aren't. After a pretty average showing through the first round, Vasilevskiy turned it on in Game Seven and kept the Lightning in it to the end to finish out the series victory.

The first game of the second round against the Florida Panthers had felt much the same way, though slightly less so. The Lightning defended very well in the first two periods, but then completely took control of the game in the third, scoring the go ahead goal and then adding on two more on late power plays. But it was Vasilevskiy and the defense that carried them to the third period tied at 1-1.

For this Game Two though, the Lightning didn’t really turn it on. They were able to take the 1-0 lead in the first period on the power play. Up to that point, the game had been pretty close to even, with the Lightning doing slightly better at defense and slightly worse at puck possession. But the Panthers pushed back after the power play goal. They continued to push through the second period and played better than the Lightning and got the tying goal late in the second period.

The third period started and the Lightning were getting manhandled by the Panthers. The Lightning couldn’t control the puck long enough to generate offense and they were giving up quality shots left and right that Vasilevskiy came up with saves for. One silver lining is that the Lightning ended up blocking a ton of shots in the third period.

Even Strength Scoring Still Lacking

The Lightning relied a lot on the power play for their wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ve relied on it again here in the first two games against the Florida Panthers. They’ve outscored the Panthers 6-2 in the first two games, but only two goals, one in each game, have come at even strength.

The Lightning really need to find some more mojo at even strength. For these first two games though, I’ll put some of it down to not having Brayden Point and also not having control of the match-ups. I’ll be really interested to see how things change when the Lightning come home to Amalie Arena, but so far they’ve been struggling to control the puck and score at even strength. Except when it means scoring a game winning goal apparently. Which I guess in it’s own way has been a good thing.

The puck possession though has been a concern throughout the playoffs for the Lightning though. They were fortunate to be able to hang with the Maple Leafs and score enough to get by, and especially having Vasilevskiy stand tall in Game Seven. The Panthers tend to be a more wide open team, but the Lightning haven’t been able to turn that around on them so far. This is a trend that the Lightning need to work on and improve on so that they can go deep into the playoffs. It’s generally not a winning strategy to get outshot in every game and get most of your scoring on the power play.

Despite my complaints, I can’t complain too much, but I can still complain

Honestly, I can’t complain too much that the Lightning are coming home with a 2-0 lead in the series. They’ll have an opportunity to take a further stranglehold on this series when they come home and play Game Three on Sunday afternoon. The wrench in the plan is that Game Three and Four are a back-to-back due to a scheduling issue at Amalie Arena.

The past two playoff runs, coach Jon Cooper has preached “Process Over Results.” In these two games, it feels like a big example of where the Lightning have gotten the result, but haven’t necessarily had the best process, though the process was better in Game One than it was in Game Two.

I’d really like to see the Lightning keep working on their issues. Every shift, every period, every game, getting a bit better. It felt like that happened with the Toronto series where each game they were getting a little bit better which culminated in the defensive clinic they put on in game seven.

Can the Lightning do that with the high flying Panthers? Can they figure out how to control the puck more effectively and not have to rely on playing desperate defense and have Vasilevskiy bail them out? If they’re to move on into the Conference Finals and hopefully the Stanley Cup Final, they could be face two teams in the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche that excel at dominating puck possession. So now’s the time for the Lightning to figure it out of how to be more consistent in that department.

Notes and Tidbits

  • With his assist in game two, Nikita Kucherov has surpassed Lightning founder Phil Esposito for sole possession of 39th on the NHL career playoff points list at 138 points. He’s got a number of players well within his sights before this series is over. Just ahead of him, he had Jacque Lemaire (139 points), Alex Ovechkin (141), Ron Francis (143), Chris Chelios (144), and Larry Robinson (144). With 12 more points, he’d become the 30th player in NHL history to reach 150 points in the playoffs.
  • If Kucherov passes Ovechkin’s 141 career playoff points, he would become the 3rd highest scoring Russian in the playoffs. He’s also chasing Sergei Fedorov at 176 points and Evgeni Malkin at 180 points.
  • With his assist in game two, Victor Hedman has tied Brian Leetch for 15th most points in the playoffs among defenseman. He now trails Scott Niedermayer (98) and Brian Rafalski (100). The next big name on the list is Sergei Zubov with 117 points.
  • Hedman has also tied Tomas Holmstrom for 6th most points in the playoffs among Swedish born players. He also has Daniel Alfredsson at 100 points within his sights for 5th most. Hedman has also tied Carl Hagelin for the 5th most playoff games by a Swede and will take sole possession of 5th with his next game.
  • Corey Perry tied Ross Colton for the team lead in goals this playoffs. Then Colton re-took the lead with his last second goal in the third period with five goals. Colton is also tied with Palat for the team lead in even strength goals with three each.
  • With the win, Andrei Vasilevskiy moved into sole possession of 18th most wins in NHL history in the playoffs with his 55th win.