Finally: The Lightning play well and defeat the Flames 6-3

The Lightning came into the game in the midst of a long slump but played a complete game and defeated the Flames comfortably.

In far too familiar fashion, the Lightning started tonight’s game in Calgary by putting themselves in a 1-0 hole. I phrased the sentence that way intentionally because they basically gifted the goal to the Flames. After taking an early penalty, the Tampa penalty kill offered almost no resistance and allowed the Flames to score just 17 seconds into the power play. Even more disconcerting was that Troy Brouwer scored the goal while standing all alone in front of Ben Bishop as Jason Garrison watched from a few feet away.

And at that moment, it seemed like we might be in for another long night especially considering that Nikita Kucherov was out with a lower body injury.

But for the rest of the first period and all of the second, the Lightning played as well as they have at any point in the last few weeks. They started by tying the game halfway through the first period with a power play goal of their own as Brian Boyle deflected a Victor Hedman shot past Chad Johnson on the short side.

Boyle followed that goal with slick backhand finish on a rush play with Valtteri Filppula that resulted in the big forward [EDITOR’S NOTE: Ahem, that’s power forward Brian Boyle to you.] skating in all alone on Johnson. In the span of four minutes, the game went from looking like another Bolts loss against an inferior opponent to looking like the team we’ve been waiting to see all season.

The second period was even better for the Lightning as they put two more goals on the scoreboard. Braydon Coburn scored on a laser from the right point that found the upper corner of the net. At the end of the period, Andrej Sustr added a fourth Bolts goal assisted by Filppula and Hedman on a similar shot from the point.

The only downside for the Lightning in the second period was that they suffered yet another injury. Ondrej Palat left the bench and did not return. The team did not make any announcement other than to say that he would not be back in the game. Even without Palat, the Lightning finished the period with a 4-1 lead and looked to be headed toward a comfortable victory.

The Lightning chased Johnson with their four goals and Brian Elliott skated out to the net to start the third period. Unfortunately, the third period saw the return of some of the same old problems for the Lightning. It started well with an Alex Killorn shorthanded goal when Killorn collected his own rebound and roofed the puck over Elliott to extend the lead to 5-1.

Shortly after, Tampa gave up a power play goal on a screened shot from the point by T.J. Brodie. While that wasn’t so bad on its own, they immediately gave up another goal at 5v5 on a 2 on 1 rush where Matt Stajan slid a pass through Jason Garrison to Micheal Ferland who beat Ben Bishop.

Suddenly, a game that was 5-1 thirty seconds earlier was 5-3. But that was the end of the comeback for the Flames. The Lightning regained control of the game and made sure it never got any closer. Killorn closed it for good with an empty net goal with under a minute left as Filppula cleared the puck form the defensive zone.

A 6-3 win is pretty much always a good thing. But even more encouraging than the score was the way the Lightning played tonight. They out shot the Flames at 5v5 and created the more dangerous chances. Their defense that has struggled so much this season did a much better job of recovering the puck in the defensive zone and transitioning the team into offense.

The improved play from the defense allowed the Lighting to gain the offensive zone with control and speed more often than they did during the recent slump. Once in the zone, they were able to put passes together and get the defense moving to create shooting lanes. They also forechecked effectively and disrupted the Flames ability to get into their own transition game. While it wasn’t a perfect game as evidenced by the lapses on the penalty kill and in the beginning of the third period, the Lightning’s play tonight was a clear step in the right direction.

Obviously, this is only one game and the Flames have not been one of the better teams in the league. If Tampa is a good team, they should beat Calgary. Given some of the recent showings for the Bolts including the 5-1 loss to the Canucks last week, a solid performance like this against any team is encouraging. Nothing about this performance guarantees that the Lightning will be able to continue it. But at least we now know the team still has the ability to play at this level. So the issue isn’t “Can they do it?” but instead, “Can they do it consistently?”