There were several factors that led to this Lightning win. The Bolts scored first and were able to play with a lead for the rest of the game. They won the special teams battle, netting two power play goals against Carolina's outstanding penalty kill and denying all four power play chances for the Hurricanes. And, when the Lightning's play slipped at different points in the final two periods, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy bailed out his teammates with a number of crucial saves on Grade-A scoring chances.
Scoring first has been an issue for the Lightning this season. In their first 37 games, the Bolts had allowed the first goal in 24 games. Including in the four contests prior to the Carolina game. In fact, the Lightning had been behind by at least two goals in all four of those previous games. (Impressively, they'd rallied in three of those and had posted a 2-1-1 record). On the flip side, the Lightning had recorded a record of 11-2-0 when scoring first. Now that's 12-2-0.
In this particular game, scoring first and getting the lead was the result of the Lightning's excellent start. Not only was the first period the Lightning's best frame in this game, they were decisively the better team in the opening period. They outshot the Hurricanes, 12-6, enjoyed most of the puck possession and generated plenty of scoring chances. In addition to the two goals they scored in the period, the Lightning also had a Michael Bournival tip off the crossbar and a Tyler Johnson shorthanded breakaway chance.
Those two first period goals were both power play goals. In scoring those goals, the Lightning became the first team this season to register more than one power play goal in a game against Carolina. The Hurricanes' PK is insanely good. In their first 35 games, the Hurricanes had allowed a total of eight power play goals. They'd yielded only three power play goals in 20 road games. In addition, they'd scored five shorthanded goals, meaning that their goal differential while shorthanded this season had only been minus three. To have those kinds of numbers through 35 games is mind-boggling.
Carolina typically does so many things well while shorthanded. The centermen win faceoffs. They are aggressive in attacking the puck carrier and often force turnovers. When the penalty killers get pucks on their sticks, they make sure they clear them down the ice. Then, they make it tough on the power play team to reenter the offensive zone. And, of course, goaltender Cam Ward has been effective in denying opposition attempts.
But the Lightning did score those two PPG. The key to both goals was a faceoff win. On Brian Boyle's tally, Johnson won an offensive zone faceoff from Viktor Stalberg (this was after both Boyle and Jay McClement were thrown out of the faceoff). The Bolts moved the puck quickly, which opened up a shooting lane for Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov's shot was a one-timer, so it got to the net in a hurry. It deflected off a Carolina player, which forced a tough first save from Ward - and a rebound. Boyle put in the second chance. The second goal was essentially a five-on-three, because while Lee Stempniak had left the Carolina penalty box, he hadn't yet gotten back into the play. But as with the first goal, the key was a faceoff win. The five-on-three wasn't a particularly long one - 35 seconds - and it began with a neutral zone faceoff. Had Carolina won the draw and shot the puck down the ice, the Lightning might not have had the same amount of time to set up the scoring chance. But the Bolts did win the draw, brought the puck into the offensive zone and Jonathan Drouin drilled a left circle shot past Ward to extend the Lightning lead.
Carolina made a push in the second - and that was when Vasilevskiy was at his best. He allowed a breakaway goal to Sebastian Aho, but denied two other breakaways. He also made tough saves on tipped shots and open Carolina looks from close range. In all, he stopped 11 of 12 attempts in the second and helped the Lightning get out of the period with a 3-1 lead. The Bolts also killed off two early second period penalties, which helped them protect their lead.
The Hurricanes kept up the pressure in the early part of the third - and enjoyed one more power play chance. They had possession in the offensive zone for nearly the entire two-minute man advantage, but didn't score. As the period progressed, the Lightning did a better job of getting pucks out of their own zone cleanly and limiting Carolina's scoring chances.
On December 20, the Lightning began a stretch in which they would be playing seven out of eight games at home. After six of those games, the Bolts are 4-1-1 (and 4-0-1 at home). They'll look to keep banking points when they host Winnipeg on Tuesday.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Jassen Cullimore):
The Lightning's two early second period penalty kills that kept the score 2-0.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Jassen Cullimore):
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 26 saves.
- Victor Hedman - Lightning. Two assists.
- Jaccob Slavin - Hurriances. Assist.