There’s an old adage in hockey that states the following: after finishing a long road trip, a team will struggle in the first game back home. That has not seemed to affect the Lightning this year, though. Prior to their recent five-game February road trip, the Bolts had completed two other five-game trips and one four-gamer. In the first home game back after those trips, they’d won all three. Likewise tonight, the Lightning did not fall victim to the “first home game” curse. They played a solid overall game against one of the top teams in the league.
There were other circumstances at work, too. The Lightning enjoyed a four-day break between their last game and this one. During that time, the players had two crisp practice days and also received two complete off-days. So they were well rested in advance of this contest. On the other hand, the Blackhawks were playing the second game of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights. The Lightning did well to take advantage of those circumstances. They grabbed the lead in the second period, forcing Chicago to play catch-up (which is more taxing than playing with the lead) and perhaps as a result, the Bolts got stronger as the game progressed.
In the first period, though, the Lightning got into penalty trouble. They were called for three separate infractions. The penalty killers did a nice job limiting Chicago’s looks during the first two kills. But the third one was a different story. The ‘Hawks applied heavy pressure right from the start of the power play and generated several Grade-A chances. Goaltender Ben Bishop stopped them all, however, keeping the game scoreless. The Blackhawks finished with 10 first period shots – nine of those came during their three power plays. The Bolts weren’t without their own first period chances, as they put traffic in front of Chicago goalie Scott Darling. Darling did well in making seven first period saves, many of which were through screens and/or on tipped shots.
In the second, the Lightning broke the scoreless tie at 8:27. J.T. Brown and Jonathan Drouin pressured the puck deep in the offensive zone. Chicago forward Teuvo Teravainen attempted to slide the puck behind his net, but it hit off the side of the net and stopped behind the net. Drouin quickly retrieved the puck and centered to Brian Boyle, who one-timed a shot past Darling.
The Lightning’s power play struggled through the first two periods, squandering four opportunities. But as the fourth one expired, the Lightning were able to keep the puck in the offensive zone against a tired Chicago unit. Thirty-one seconds after the penalty ended, Steven Stamkos deflected Jason Garrison’s left point shot over Darling’s glove to extend the lead. The Lightning took a 2-0 advantage into the second intermission.
The ‘Hawks applied some early third period pressure, but their momentum was short-circuited when Kris Versteeg committed a tripping penalty in the offensive zone. On the ensuing power play, the Lightning finally cashed in, converting at 7:37. After Tyler Johnson wired a cross-ice pass to Valtteri Filppula at the right circle, Filppula slid the puck off Ryan Callahan’s stick into the net. The ‘Hawks didn’t muster much of an attack after that goal and the Lightning added a fourth goal when Stamkos buried a power play slapshot with 2:45 left.
The Lightning, outside of a couple of errant passes that led to counter chances for Chicago, played an excellent five-on-five game. They held the ‘Hawks to only 10 five-on-five shots through the first two periods as they built their lead. Chicago added seven more shots in the third, but many of those came late in the game and, with the exception of a shot during a goalmouth scramble in the final minute, weren’t especially dangerous.
The Lightning executed well against a team playing its third game in four nights. They were a structured group defensively. The penalty kill kept the game scoreless early. Then they took the lead, forcing their opponents to play catch-up. Their power play finally clicked. And when there were isolated breakdowns, Ben Bishop bailed them out.
They’ll try to replicate that formula on Sunday in Sunrise, when they play the Florida Panthers. Like the ‘Hawks tonight, the Panthers on Sunday will be completing a back-to-back and playing their third game in four nights.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Callahan’s third period PPG, which extended the Lightning lead to 3-0.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 28 saves for second shutout of the season.
2.Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Two goals.
3.Jason Garrison – Lightning. Two assists.