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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a loss to Anaheim

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 3-1 loss to the Ducks

by Bryan Burns /

The Anaheim Ducks can be one of the more difficult teams to play against in the NHL because of their size and physical play combined with the way they clog up the neutral zone to prevent teams from getting into any kind of rhythm offensively.

The Tampa Bay Lightning found out just how effective Anaheim's style of play can be against a team predicated on speed.

The Ducks held the top-scoring team in the league to just one goal, frustrating the Lightning so much that at one point, star forward Nikita Kucherov smashed his stick against the Anaheim goal, breaking the stick in half, after a good scoring opportunity, a rarity Tuesday night, was squandered.

Anaheim, meanwhile, capitalized on a third-period power play to pull back in front and scored 48 second later to build an insurmountable two-goal lead in a 3-1 victory over the Lightning at AMALIE Arena.

On Thursday, Tampa Bay welcomes the suddenly unbeatable Buffalo Sabres, winners of 10 games in a row, to town to close out its five-game homestand.

But before looking ahead to that Atlantic Division showdown, let's figure out where the game got away from the Lightning in their loss to Anaheim.

 Video: Ryan Callahan on the difficult 3rd period

Anaheim's quick-strike tallies in the third period provided them a two-goal lead.

But the Lightning had plenty of opportunities down the stretch to get back in the game and tie it up.

None were as good as the 5-on-3 power play the Bolts received midway through the final period.

With Brandon Montour already in the box for hooking, Brian Gibbons got his stick up in the face of Tyler Johnson in the corner to give the Bolts a two-man advantage for :33 seconds.

The Lightning nearly stuck one in the back of the net on the 5-on-3, Nikita Kucherov from the right circle dishing to the back post for a wide open J.T. Miller, who had Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller beat but sent his redirection wide of the target.

The remainder of the power play was a disheveled mess, the wasted power-play chance proving to be a pivotal moment. If the Lightning connect on Miller's redirect, there's a pretty good chance they find the game-tying goal later in the period with the way they had been creating up to that point. Failing on that extended power-play opportunity, however, pretty much signaled the beginning of the end for the Lightning.

"We had some chances there to capitalize on the power play, had a couple good looks," J.T. Miller said. "The first two periods we did a really good job, had a lot of O-zone time and made some plays, had some good looks, but just couldn't get that second one by Miller." 

The Lightning entered Tuesday's game with a clear advantage in the special teams department. The Bolts ranked fifth in the NHL on the power play and 11th on the penalty kill. Anaheim, conversely, was near the bottom of the league standings, coming in at 20th on the penalty kill and tied for 26th on the power play.

But it was Anaheim's ability to win the special teams battle that ultimately won them the game. They converted a third period power play to pull ahead, and the Lightning were unable to find the back of the net during their four opportunities.

 Video: Jon Cooper on the loss to Anaheim

Despite seeing its offense stymied by Anaheim's style of play, the Lightning were still able to generate plenty of shots on net - they finished with 35 - and had stretches of the game where they controlled the action.

Anaheim, though, was opportunistic in its limited chances.With a little less than five minutes off the clock in the third period, the Ducks capitalized on a power play and a fortunate bounce. Pontus Aberg got the puck all alone in the high slot and fired a shot that missed the target high. The puck bounced off the glass behind the goal and rebounded straight out in front of the net, where Nick Ritchie swung his stick like a baseball player connecting with a belt-high fastball, sending the puck past Lightning goaltender Louis Domingue.

"The second goal was a really big break for them," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "They get the power play and you don't see it that often were the shot goes off the glass and comes right back in front of the net and they whack it home. That's a big break for them. It was tough."

With the Lightning perhaps still reeling from that goal against the run of play, the Ducks added to their lead on the next shift, Carter Rowley getting the puck down low and backhanding a shot over the outstretched glove of Domingue to make the score 3-1, a one-two gut punch to the collective psyche of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Them scoring two goals was the biggest difference," Bolts right wing Ryan Callahan said. "They get a fluky bounce off the glass and then they score the next shift. We obviously can't find the equalizer there, at least one to get us back in it. I thought the first two periods were pretty even. A game like that where it's hard to get chances and we're not putting it in the net, those two goals were pretty big."

The way the Ducks were limiting the Lightning's scoring opportunities, finding one goal was going to be a tall task for the Bolts.

Finding two just wasn't going to happen.

Video: Miller on the tough grind of the season

If you're looking for the single biggest reason why Anaheim left Tampa with a victory on Tuesday, look no further than Ducks netminder Ryan Miller.

Playing in his eighth game of the season, Miller was locked in from the start. The Lightning might have been stymied in the neutral zone by the Ducks physicality, but they still managed to get a few really good scoring chances throughout the game.

The veteran netminder was up to the task on all but one of them, Brayden Point's game-tying goal at 18:34 of the second period, Nikita Kucherov delivering the puck from behind the net out front for Point to slam home.

Miller's biggest save came right after the Ducks took a two-goal lead, a loose puck squirting over to Alex Killorn on the back post but Miller making a quick, reaction save with his right leg to thwart Killorn's Grade-A.

"I thought Ryan Miller played outstanding for them," Cooper said. "He was probably the difference in the game."

Early in the contest with no score, Miller made a desperation save on Victor Hedman, reaching out with his glove while laying on his belly to prevent a puck bound for the back of the net from sliding over the goal line. In the second period, Yanni Gourde had a good look at a rebound from the edge of the blue paint, but Miller again was able to get his leg out to block it at the last second.

Anaheim's work in the neutral zone combined with Miller's heroics in net proved to be too much even for the league's top-ranked offense to solve.

"He was really good, came up with some really big saves for them," Callahan said. "He's been doing that his whole career, so it's no surprise."

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