For the Lightning, Game One of the Eastern Conference Final had some good – and some not so good.
First, the not so good. The Lightning had a rough first period in which they played tightly and tentatively. As a result, they didn’t possess the puck very much and were back on their heels throughout most of the frame. And while the Lightning’s game settled down in the final 40 minutes, they were guilty of making two critical mistakes that eventually led to the New York goals.
But there was good as well. The Lightning’s game improved as the game progressed. The third period was their best period, one in which they buzzed around the Rangers’ d-zone. Their power play, which produced seven goals in the series win over Montreal, accounted for their tally in this contest – and they looked dangerous on their two other full two-minute chances. These are areas of encouragement for the Lightning as they look to even the series on Monday night.
But the first period wasn’t a good one for the Lightning. After a couple of solid shifts to start the game, the Lightning began turning over pucks. Many of these turnovers were unforced – in other words, much of the trouble the Lightning ran into was self-inflicted. But Ben Bishop was terrific in the opening frame. In keeping the game scoreless, he made 11 first period saves, including a breakaway stop on Derek Stepan and saves on Grade-A looks for Kevin Hayes and Derek Brassard. The Rangers also hit a post (Hayes) and missed a golden chance late in the frame when Dan Girardi’s rebound shot from in close was blocked. Shots on goal in the period were 11-7 in favor of the Rangers, but New York attempted 24 shots while the Bolts had only 11 attempts.
The Lightning bounced back well in the second period. They cleaned up their d-zone outlets and managed to get more pucks deep in the New York end. As a result, they enjoyed more extended offensive zone shifts. Alex Killorn had a good opportunity from the slot in the opening minute of the period, but he put his shot over the net. Later, during a four-on-four, both teams had two-on-one breaks, but each goalie stopped the other side’s attempt. The Lightning killed two penalties in the period, receiving a fantastic Bishop rebound stop on J.T. Miller during the first power play opportunity. As a whole, the Lightning did a much better job of limiting New York’s dangerous looks. However, a mistake in the period’s final minute proved to be costly. The Lightning had the puck at center ice with a chance to get it deep in the Rangers zone, complete a line change and avoid any trouble in the closing seconds. Instead, they turned it over in the neutral zone and the Rangers brought the puck into the Lightning end with a chance to make a play before the period ended. There was some bad luck for the Lightning that also contributed to Stepan’s rebound goal. First, Chris Kreider skated past Bishop and collided with Bishop’s stick, which fell out of Bishop’s hand. Then, Andrej Sustr blocked Kreider’s shot from the slot. But instead of bouncing away from the Lightning net, the puck deflected right to Stepan, standing next to Bishop. Had Bishop still had his stick, he might have been able to swat the puck away. Instead, Stepan put his rebound shot past Bishop’s right hand, exactly where the stick would have been. The goal came with under 13 seconds left in the period.
Down by one entering the third, the Lightning produced their best period of the game. For much of the period, they kept the Rangers hemmed back in the New York end. They drew three penalties – Ryan McDonagh’s high-stick on Johnson was accidental, but the other two New York penalties occurred because the Rangers were trying to prevent a Lightning scoring chance. The Bolts tied the game when Ondrej Palat ripped a right circle one-timer over Lundqvist’s glove. The Lightning had a few chances to take the lead, but Lundqvist made a close-range save on Alex Killorn and later, back-to-back saves on Tyler Johnson during a Lightning rush sequence. Those saves kept the scored tied at one and set the stage for Dominic Moore’s winning goal.
As with the Stepan goal, the Lightning committed a costly error. Moore had been serving a penalty, but as time expired on his infraction, he came out of the box and jumped on a puck at center ice and countered on a three-on-one rush. The Lightning seemingly caught a big break when Moore carried the puck into the Lightning end and surprised Brassard with a drop pass. The puck slid through Brassard’s legs and out of the zone. But the Lightning didn’t get the puck in deep to the New York end. Instead, they turned it back over and the Rangers immediately countered. As with the Stepan goal, the Rangers got a fortuitous bounce. Hayes wired the puck in front from the left circle and it hit Moore’s leg and ricocheted into the net.
Mistakes are going to happen over the course of a game. Unfortunately for the Lightning, their two puck management issues were compounded with those aforementioned bad breaks that led to two New York goals. That also can happen over the course of a game. But the Lightning’s play in the third is something they’ll look to build on in Game Two. They controlled the puck, forced the Rangers to defend and, for much of the period, kept the puck out of their own zone. (Other than the Moore goal, there was only one other dangerous New York shot in the period – a Rick Nash look on the shift after Palat’s goal).
Having written that, the Bolts will need to do more five-on-five even when they are carrying possession. After the game, the Lightning stated that they must shoot the puck more on Lundqvist. Even with the Palat goal and those other third period chances, they managed only five third period shots on net. The Rangers blocked eight others and seven more attempts missed the net. Still, if the Lightning can carry play like they did in the final 20 minutes, they’ll have opportunities to put the puck on the net. And hopefully, in the net.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Dominic Moore – Rangers. GWG.
2.Henrik Lundqvist – Rangers. 23 saves.
3.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 28 saves.