This was the Lightning's biggest win of the season so far. If they had lost Thursday's game in regulation, they would have fallen seven points behind the Bruins and eight back of the Toronto Maple Leafs (who defeated New Jersey on Thursday). Instead, the Lightning's 6-3 regulation triumph pulled them to within three points of Boston (with a game in hand) and allowed them to keep pace with the surging Maple Leafs. The Bolts also moved to within a point of the ninth-seeded New York Islanders and maintained a lead over the three teams directly behind them - Carolina, Philadelphia and Florida. So clearly, this was a crucial victory. But just as significant was how they earned those two points.
Coming off three consecutive losses, the Lightning knew they needed to tighten up their defensive game. They had allowed five goals in each of those previous three contests. While they did give up three goals to the Bruins, the Lightning played a much more committed defensive game. They did have a couple of issues on rush coverage that led to two of the Boston goals and had a breakdown on the penalty kill resulting in the other Boston tally. But those miscues were isolated. For most of the night, the Lightning held their coverage well, defended hard, contested loose pucks and limited turnovers. That sound, defensive play was a big part of the Lightning's game during the 12-2-3 stretch prior to the three-game losing skid. The fact that they did it in this game, one they had to play without an injured Jason Garrison for most of the final two periods, made it even more impressive.
So a renewed commitment to defense contributed to the win, but there were other factors. On three occasions in the second period, the Lightning fell behind by a goal. But each time, they answered the Boston goal with a tally of their own. The Bruins had leads lasting only 44 seconds, 24 seconds and one minute and thirty-five seconds, respectively. The Lightning's ability to respond so quickly sapped Boston's momentum. It kept the Bolts from having to spend much time chasing the game.
The Lightning again received a big performance from their top line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. They were out on the ice for two of the Lightning's even-strength goals, plus Kucherov's empty-netter at the end of the game. As well, for the second straight game, the Lightning's second line of Vladdy Namestnikov, Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn also contributed. Drouin's tally early in the third snapped the 3-3 tie and ended up being the game-winner.
Then there were the two Kucherov power play goals. It was no small feat to net those goals against a Boston penalty kill that was tied for third-best in the league. But Kucherov, who now leads the NHL with 17 power play goals, has been lethal from his spot at the right circle. That's where he scored both of his PPG in this game.
And while the Lightning did allow one power play goal themselves, they also came up with an important kill in the opening minutes of the third, when the game was still tied at three. Peter Budaj made a point blank save on Brad Marchand during that kill to keep the game even.
The Lightning won't have any time to savor this victory because they complete their back-to-back on Friday against a Detroit team that hasn't played since Tuesday. The Bolts will have an opportunity to gain more ground in the standings. But if that's going to happen, the Lightning will need to exhibit the same level of defensive determination that they showed versus the Bruins.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
The Lightning's three second period goals that each came shortly after a Boston goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Nikita Kucherov - Lightning. Hat trick.
- Jonathan Drouin - Lightning. GWG. Two assists.
- Ondrej Palat - Lightning. Three assists.