In Thursday’s loss to St. Louis, the Lightning played one of their leakiest defensive games of the year. They began this five-game trip against a similar team to the “heavy” Blues – the Sharks have big, strong forwards who can effectively control the puck in the offensive zone for long stretches.
It’s true that at times in this game, the Sharks pinned the Lightning back in the defensive zone. And San Jose was able to generate a handful of odd-man rushes. But compared to Thursday’s performance, the Lightning played a much better overall defensive game. When those breakdowns occurred, goaltender Ben Bishop bailed them out. And the stretches in which the Sharks dictated play became shorter and less frequent as the game progressed.
For most of the first period, the Sharks did enjoy the run of play. They hit the post during a power play and forced Bishop to make several in-close saves. But the Lightning, despite not having the puck as much, scored the period’s only goal. During a delayed penalty call on the Sharks in the closing seconds, Steven Stamkos drilled a center point shot past Antti Niemi’s stick. It was his 30th goal of the season and gave the Lightning momentum entering the second.
The Bolts controlled the early part of the second period (though during that time Bishop made a couple of key point blank saves on isolated chances for Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto). They forechecked effectively and consequently enjoyed more puck possession in the offensive zone. They added to their lead when Stamkos wired a cross-ice pass to an open Ryan Callahan at the right circle. Callahan’s shot nicked off Alex Killorn’s stick past Niemi’s right shoulder.
At 10:27 of the period, Logan Couture cut the lead in half at the end of a shift in which they Lightning couldn’t execute a full line change and got caught with tired players on the ice. The Sharks’ most dangerous and sustained pressure came in the closing minutes of the frame, but thanks to some key Bishop saves, the Lightning carried the 2-1 lead into the third.
It took only 10 seconds into the final period for the Bolts to reestablish a two-goal lead. Ondrej Palat picked off a pass at center ice and countered into the offensive zone. A pass intended for Tyler Johnson deflected back to him and he bounced a shot from the right circle off a San Jose defender past Niemi. The goal was one second shy of the franchise record for the fastest goal to start a period.
The Sharks best stretch in the third came moments after the Palat goal, but the Lightning survived that surge. They also got through an early third period penalty kill unscathed. But a second San Jose power play in period yielded a Brent Burns goal. The lead was cut to 3-2 with 8:32 left. Then came one of the most significant points in the game. Seeing their lead sliced to 3-2 – and on the road against a team looking to storm back and tie the game – the Lightning played a flawless final 8:32. They didn’t allow the Sharks any more dangerous looks. They managed the puck beautifully and made clean, quick passes to escape their own zone. From center ice, they worked pucks deep in the San Jose end and forced to Sharks to counter from behind their own net. And they were the ones to generate scoring chances. Shortly after Killorn was denied on a point blank shot, Cedric Paquette finished off a three-on-two rush, roofing a shot over Niemi’s glove. Callahan finished the scoring with an empty-netter.
Even though the Sharks carried play for portions of the night, there was a lot to like about this one for the Bolts. Bishop was on top of his game. The Bolts scored timely goals. They got better as the game progressed. And they were at their absolute best in the final eight-plus minutes, helping them close out the contest after their lead had been cut to one.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Palat’s goal, which gave the Lightning needed insurance 10 seconds into the third.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 33 saves. Key stops throughout the night.
2.Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Goal and assist.
3.Ryan Callahan – Lightning. Goal and assist.