This was going to be a tough challenge for the Lightning. They were playing the second game of a back-to-back against the defending Stanley Cup Champs, who have rediscovered their solid, structured, physical game in the past week after an uneven season so far. To win this game, the Bolts would need to play a solid, structured style themselves. They’d need to have a shooting mentality against LA goalie Jonathan Quick. And they’d help their cause by grabbing the lead.
For the first 27 minutes of this game, the Lightning executed that game plan perfectly. They dictated play for much of the first period – they did so by making clean, simple plays to get pucks out of their own zone and then from center ice, they chipped pucks into the LA end. Their puck retrieval in the first period was strong, so the Lightning enjoyed some extended offensive zone time. When they had a chance to shoot, they shot. Quick was forced to make several tough first saves, which meant he left some rebounds on those shots. One of those second chances yielded a goal for Nikita Nesterov, his first in the NHL. But during those first 27 minutes, the Lightning couldn’t add another, despite a number of other good looks.
Then, at 7:04 of the second, the Kings tied the score. Trevor Lewis threaded a pass up the middle to a streaking Anze Kopitar, who buried a shot just over the right pad of Andrei Vasilevskiy. That goal changed the momentum of the contest. For much of the rest of the second period, the Kings settled into their game – they dumped pucks into the Lightning zone and pursued. They finished their checks. They held in clearing attempts and made the Lightning work hard in the d-zone. Even though the Kings didn’t score again in the period, they established control of the game. This is part of their game plan every night – they aim to wear down the opposition as the game progresses. It is certainly a key for them when they’re facing a team that played the night before.
The Kings netted two third period goals to go up, 3-1. Both tallies, like the Kopitar goal, came off the rush. After Jordan Nolan gave LA a 2-1 lead early in the third, though, the Lightning did well to push back. In the minutes after Nolan’s tally, the Bolts enjoyed their most sustained offensive zone pressure since the early part of the second period. Despite the zone time, though, they failed to generate many shots or scoring chances. Then, for most of the final 10 minutes, the Kings played their usual textbook style of solid defending and the Lightning struggled to spend any quality time in the offensive zone. With 6:01 left, Jeff Carter added to the lead when he joined a two-on-two rush and wired a shot over the glove of Vasilevskiy.
The Bolts pulled Vasilevskiy with about two minutes left, but couldn’t generate anything until Kucherov stole the puck from Drew Doughty at the left circle and set up Tyler Johnson for a tap-in goal at 19:23. Then, they nearly tied it. Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette and Steven Stamkos all had good looks, but none of those attempts went in. Quick made a fantastic save on the Stamkos’ chance, which came in the final few seconds off a cross-ice feed from Victor Hedman.
As I mentioned at the top, circumstances were working against the Lightning in this one. If they had been able to extend the lead in the early part of the game, this contest might have unfolded differently. Instead, Quick kept his team down by only one and after Kopitar tied it, the Kings, playing their heavy, physical game, controlled much of the second half of the game. After an off-day on Tuesday, the Lightning will look to bounce back on Wednesday against Anaheim.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Kopitar’s goal, which changed the momentum of the game.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Anze Kopitar – Kings. Goal.
2.Jonathan Quick – Kings. 21 saves. Key stops in first half of game and in closing seconds.
3.Nikita Nesterov – Lightning. First NHL goal.