Game 40: Tampa Bay Lightning at Vancouver Canucks
The Tampa Bay Lightning put their speed up front to work, capitalizing on several odd-man rushes (and one power play) to best the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 to open the New Year.
The Tampa Bay Lightning had too much speed for the Vancouver Canucks on New Year's Day, routinely finding gaps in defensive coverage and turning defensive zone possession into odd-man rushes. The Bolts capitalized on their chances, limited the 5v5 offense for the Vancouver Canucks, and got yet another solid performance in net from the snubbed Ben Bishop en route to a well-earned 4-2 win to start off their January road swing.
The first period saw a lot of open action with very few whistles, as both teams got out to a quick start up and down the ice. The Lightning carried the balance of play early with a couple of long cycle shifts in Vancouver's end, led by the trio of Nikita Kucherov (now sporting number 86, as he has for other clubs in the past), Nate Thompson, and J.T. Brown continue to do good things for the Bolts.
A timeout midway through the period broke up a strong surge by the Lightning. The Canucks followed that up with a power play opportunity after Matt Carle fell down at the attacking blue line and swiped at the puck while sitting at the ice. Vancouver generated a few shots and attempts towards Ben Bishop on the power play, but not much in the way of good scoring chances, and the Lightning finished the period strong at 5v5.
The second period followed the first, with Tampa Bay pressuring Vancouver into own-zone turnovers and getting more looks on offense via transition, turning neutral zone possession into quick 3-on-2 breaks with relative ease. One such rush gave the Lightning their first power play of the game, which maintained good possession in Vancouver's end but failed to put much towards Lack, with Tyler Johnson parked in Steven Stamkos' usual spot and whiffing on a couple of cross-crease feeds that would have been good scoring chances had the puck been put towards the net.
A second failed power play against the league's best penalty kill put some momentum back in Vancouver's favor, and they capitalized by springing Brad Richardson on a partial breakaway for a wrist shot that beat Ben Bishop and gave the Canucks a one-goal lead with less than ten minutes remaining in the middle frame. The goal allowed came on a pretty poor decision by Mark Barberio, who stepped up looking to make a hit and left Richardson to shoot the gap and score the game's first goal.
The Canucks turned that goal into even more pressure in the Lightning zone, getting their first sustained 5v5 pressure of the night and drawing another penalty (a holding the stick minor to J.P. Cote) to go on their 2nd man advantage of the night with a chance to extend their lead. But the Lightning penalty kill held, and the Bolts went back to working their offense off the rush at 5v5, exposing the Vancouver defense through the neutral zone with more speed than the Canucks blueliners could answer.
The Bolts evened the score on a 3-on-2 play finished through the slot by Valterri Filppula, who adeptly changed the angle of his shot right at the point of release, snapping it past Eddie Lack to tie the score 1-1. Then, off the ensuring center-ice faceoff, the Lightning dug the puck out of their own end following a Vancouver dump-in and quick rushed up ice 2-on-1, with both Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson displaying excellent speed. Palat drove wide around the lone Canuck defender and fed Johnson at the goalmouth to give the Bolts a 2-1 lead just seconds after Filppula tied it.
The flurry in the second continued as the Canucks followed with transition offense of their own. Zac Dalpe tied the game at 2 apiece following a missed icing by Vancouver, as the puck was dumped in on their side of the red line and reached the goal line but wasn't blown dead despite not hitting anything on the way in. Vancouver's equalizer was scored just seconds later, prompting Lightningh head coach Jon Cooper to erupt into a Tortorellan fit of rage on the bench, to no avail.
The Bolts kept the pressure up and continued to attack the Canucks quickly in transition. Victor Hedman found Tyler Johnson up a seam through the middle of the ice for a partial breakaway that was hampered by a hook from behind. The Canucks avoided a penalty shot call but the Bolts went on their second man advantage of the evening looking to regain the lead. After some better work on the right side half wall-slot-down low triangle than during the first power play, the Bolts got a good look from Teddy Purcell in the slot, who hit the post. The Canucks gained possession but failed to clear, allowing the Bolts to hold the blue line and find Nikita Kucherov on right wing for a wicked snipe slap shot that beat Lack cleanly top-shelf and restored the one-goal lead for the Lightning.
After some more back and forth play in the third, Alex Killorn added the insurance marker with just over 12 minutes left to play, deflecting a point shot in he high slot past Lack for a late two goal lead that the Lightning wouldn't relinquish. The Bolts were caught playing with fire a bit late, with very little in the way of a concerted offensive effort, but the keepaway game worked as they closed out the final minutes without incident and snapped their two-game losing streak, improving to 1-0 in hockey games played in 2014.