In the five games prior to this one, the Lightning had played some of their best, defensive hockey of the season. They were defending hard, limiting opposition scoring chances and avoiding costly turnovers. In those five games, they had allowed a total of 10 goals - and one of those was an empty-netter.
But in this game against Arizona, the Lightning reverted to the leaky, defensive play that had hurt them earlier in the month. In the first eight minutes of the first period, the Lightning allowed three separate odd-man rushes. They dodged a bullet on the first one when Brendan Perlini's shot missed the net. The second came during a Lightning power play and Ben Bishop had to make two tough saves on successive shorthanded bids for Arizona. Then, on the third, the Lightning yielded a three-on-two and Toby Rieder lifted a shot from the side of the net between Bishop's arm and body into the top of the net. It was a goal Bishop probably wanted back, but the shot wouldn't have occurred if the Coyotes hadn't gotten a three-on-two.
Those odd-man rushes against set the tone for the first two periods. The Lightning didn't yield a lot of shots, but they did allow too many dangerous chances. Even though Bishop allowed five goals in two periods (and the first two were ones he normally stops), he did deny several other Grade-A looks. Of his 12 recorded saves, the majority of them were of the point-blank variety.
At the other end of the ice, the Lightning only had one line that was able to consistently generate pressure in the first 40 minutes. The unit of Cedric Paquette, Michael Bournival and Gabriel Dumont was terrific and teamed up to score the first Tampa Bay goal. That came late in the first and cut Arizona's lead to 2-1.
Halfway through the second period, the Lightning had a glorious chance to tie the game when they were awarded a four-minute power play. But the back-to-back opportunities were quiet ones and they were held off the board. Then, they got into penalty trouble themselves, as Arizona went on a five-on-three for just under a minute. Just as the two-man advantage ended, Michael Stone got to a rebound of a blocked Radim Vrbata shot and buried his chance. That goal, which made it 3-1, came with just over five minutes left in the second. The Bolts' defense was poor in those final minutes of the period and, as a result, they allowed two more goals before the second ended. One was off a rush coverage error and the other, in the final seconds of the frame, was due to a lost puck battle behind their net and blown coverage in front of it.
Down 5-1 entering the third, the Lightning did make a push. They had most of the puck possession in the final period, posted a season-high 24 shots and scored twice. They might have had more if not for the play of goalie Mike Smith, who made 21 third period saves, including a terrific stop on Brian Boyle early in the frame. But unfortunately, the urgency with which they played in the third wasn't on display earlier in the game.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Radim Vrbata - Coyotes. Goal and three assists.
- Mike Smith - Coyotes. 44 saves.
- Cedric Paquette - Lightning. Goal.