In my Extra Shift column after Game Five, I ended with these two sentences: Every time the Lightning have been pushed this year, they’ve responded. They’ll need another big response in Game Six. Well, they got that big response, staving off elimination in a hostile building.
The Red Wings had put together three consecutive games in which they played air-tight defensive hockey (excluding the final few minutes of Game Four, of course). The common denominator in those games was that the Red Wings were able to grab an early lead. With the lead, the Red Wings play an especially structured game. But that dynamic can change if they have to chase a deficit. Before tonight, Game Two was the only contest in the series in which the Lightning played with lead – and it also happened to be Detroit’s worst defensive performance in the series.
Therefore, it was important that the Lightning scored the first goal in Game Six. Not only did it give the Bolts a lead, it seemed to loosen up Detroit’s tight structure through the neutral zone. Outside of Cedric Paquette’s shorthanded empty-netter, the Lightning scored their other four goals off the rush. Meaning they were able to move the puck up ice, though the neutral zone, and attack the net after they entered the Detroit end. Those plays weren’t available in the past three contests (again, excluding the late stages of Game Four).
On the first goal, Nikita Kucherov accepted a long outlet from Victor Hedman and then slipped the puck to Tyler Johnson speeding down the left wing. Johnson darted around Danny DeKeyser and skated in alone on Petr Mrazek. Johnson roofed the shot to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead at 3:47 of the first. The Lightning never lost that lead. Later in the period, Ryan Callahan, Kucherov and Steven Stamkos worked the puck up ice. Stamkos passed to Jason Garrison, who joined the rush. Mrazek had come far out of his crease to challenge a potential Stamkos shot and was out of position to stop Garrison’s shot.
Mrazek made several terrific saves early in the second, keeping the deficit temporarily at 2-0. One of those, an incredible stick blade save on Brian Boyle, was the best stop of the series. But undaunted, the Lightning kept attacking and eventually netted that third goal. Kucherov knocked the puck off Brendan Smith’s stick as Smith tried to walk into the Lightning d-zone. The puck ricocheted to Ondrej Palat, who hurried a feed to Johnson. Johnson whistled a wrist shot past Mrazek’s glove to make it 3-0.
Tomas Tatar scored two goals to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2. The second of those came early in the third. But the Lightning survived the ensuing Detroit push and re-established a two-goal lead when Alex Killorn intercepted a neutral zone pass from Marek Zidlicky and rushed past Zidlicky for another in-alone chance. He lifted a backhand into the net for a 4-2 with just over five minutes left. That look much of the wind out of Detroit’s sails and Paquette’s empty netter sealed the win.
The Lightning earn high marks for their effort on the penalty kill. Yes, they yielded one power play goal, but they killed off the six others. Some of the calls in this game were legitimate but others were, well, curious, based on how physically the game was played. Some calls not made were also hard to figure out. But the bottom line for the Lightning is this: even though the high number of kills didn’t cost them the game on Monday, they cannot afford to take so many penalties in Game Seven.
This was certainly the most physical game in the series so far – on both ends. For much of the game, the Lightning made life tough on Red Wing puck carriers by taking the body. They also played a desperate game in their willingness to battle for loose pucks. Those were all key components to the victory.
In staving off elimination, the Lightning have forced a Game Seven. If they want to advance to the second round, they’ll need to win two in a row, something neither team has been able to do so far. If they replicate their performance from Wednesday, though, they’ll give themselves an excellent chance to capture the series.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Tyler Johnson’s second goal, which extended the lead to 3-0 in the second period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Two goals.
2.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Three assists.
3.Alex Killorn – Lightning. Goal. Seven shots.