If the Lightning are going to make a run for the playoffs, they are likely going to need their top players to lead the way. And those players were difference-makers in this important victory over the Senators. Nikita Kucherov recorded his second career hat trick and posted his fourth four-point game of the season. Jonathan Drouin registered a regular season-best three assists. Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson each contributed two helpers.
And Andrei Vasilevskiy, in his first start since the trade of Ben Bishop, delivered a phenomenal performance. He made 39 saves on 40 shots and was especially sharp in first period, a frame in which he made a handful of tough stops to keep the Lightning within a one-goal deficit.
Vasilevskiy needed to be on his game during the first, because the Lightning had a shaky opening frame. Their coverage off the rush and in the d-zone was loose, so the Senators were able to generate many dangerous scoring chances. Vasilevskiy did allow a five-on-three power play goal to Kyle Turris at 6:26, but he denied the 14 other first period Ottawa shots he faced. Two of his best came on successive shots off an Ottawa two-on-one (the initial attempt from Cody Ceci and the rebound from Chris Kelly). He also made a nifty glove save on an open right circle look for Erik Karlsson.
Another key moment in the game came late in the first, when the Lightning took a third penalty. But the Bolts did a terrific job killing off the infraction, which carried over to the second period. Shortly after the penalty expired, the Lightning tied the game. Strong forechecking pressure from Drouin and Alex Killorn led to a Zack Smith turnover and a goal for Brayden Point.
The tying goal sparked the Lightning, who would record three more goals before the period ended. All three were power play goals and came from the same spot. From the same player. Kucherov rifled three right circle one-timers into the net to break the game open. On each of those, Drouin, positioned at the left circle, drew the attention of the Ottawa penalty killers. He eventually started a quick passing sequence (twice to Hedman and once directly to Kucherov) that led to those Kucherov one-timers. The last of the strikes came with just under 14 seconds left in the second, a deflating goal against for the opposition.
The Senators did put 14 more shots on goal in the third period, but unlike their attempts in the first period, many of these weren't dangerous. In the final two periods, the Lightning tightened up their neutral zone and d-zone coverage, which led to (mostly) routine saves for Vasilevskiy.
It's never easy to suddenly say good-bye to close friends and teammates. In the hours before this game, the Lightning had to absorb the departures of Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle. But the recent trade activity didn't negatively affect their play in this game - at least after Vasilevskiy helped them get through the first period.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Bobby "The Chief" Taylor):
Kucherov's hat trick goal in the closing seconds of the second period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Bobby "The Chief" Taylor):
- Nikita Kucherov - Lightning. Hat trick, assist. Seven shots.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning, 39 saves.
- Jonathan Drouin - Lightning. Three assists.