Entering this game, the Lightning had dropped two in a row and four of five. Starting goalie Ben Bishop had sustained an injury in the previous game. The Bolts were playing the second half of a back-to-back against a rested opponent. That opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers, had gone 3-0-2 in their past five games. So, as I wrote at the end of last night’s “Extra Shift”, it was going to be interesting to see how the Lightning responded to this adversity.
They responded with flying colors. The Lightning played a committed, structured, defensively-sound game, limiting the Flyers to only a few scoring chances. That structure helped them possess the puck for most of the game and generate numerous scoring chances of their own. As has been the case in these recent losses, the Lightning once again fought bad puck-luck (they hit two posts in the first period) and faced another hot goalie (Steve Mason stopped a handful of in-alone Lightning chances). But because they played so well, those elements didn’t factor in the final score.
This was the first NHL start and game for rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was recalled after the Bishop injury. He was solid in this performance, stopping all the shots that he needed to. The only one that beat him was a perfect Wayne Simmonds’ deflection during a Philadelphia power play. Because the Bolts were so structured in front of him, Vasilevskiy only had to deal with a couple of dangerous attempts.
The Bolts set the tone for the game on the very first shift. The line of Brian Boyle, Brendan Morrow and Brett Connolly worked the puck into the Flyers zone and kept it there for close to a minute. Much of the first period followed that same script. The Lightning moved the puck into the Philly end and avoided “one-and-done” sequences. Despite being outshot, 10-7, in the period, the Lightning enjoyed the better looks. But two power play chances in the opening frame yielded nothing. And when the Flyers earned their first power play opportunity with just under a minute left, they converted.
Trailing by a goal entering the second, the Lightning didn’t let up. Early in the period, Jonathan Drouin, who was moved onto a line with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan during the Pittsburgh game on Monday and kept on that line against the Flyers, took a pass from Stamkos in the offensive zone. He drew the two Philly defensemen to him and dished back to Stamkos, who had an open look from the right circle. Stamkos roofed the shot over Mason, tying the game at one.
The Bolts thoroughly dominated play for the next nine minutes – and grabbed the lead seven seconds after a power play ended. Tyler Johnson slid home a shot from the slot after an initial Nikita Kucherov attempt hit Callahan in the skate and ricocheted to Johnson. The Lightning had several more chances to extend the lead, including a point blank look for Anton Stralman after he received a terrific cross-ice feed from Drouin. But Mason kept his team down by only one goal. Then, halfway through the second, the Flyers received what would be the first of two consecutive power play chances. The Lightning did a good job of killing off both infractions, but the Flyers used those opportunities to spend less time in their own end.
In the third, the Lightning’s puck management wasn’t quite as sharp as it had been earlier in the game. They dealt with a number of d=zone faceoffs and, until the closing minutes, didn’t have many extended offensive zone shifts. But they defended well without the puck. The Flyers’ best chances came off a rebound attempt from Michael Raffl and a partial breakaway for Scott Laughto, but Vasilevskiy made the saves. And while they didn’t have the puck as much in the third, the Bolts still generated some great chances. Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Kucherov all had breakaways (or partial ones). When the Flyers pulled Mason with over two minutes left, the Lightning once again held their d-zone positions well, blocking any clear looks to the net. Valtteri Filppula eventually tallied an empty-netter, setting the final at 3-1.
It was quite a response following the losses in Washington and Pittsburgh. The Bolts got a solid performance from everyone in uniform tonight. There were no passengers. With the win, the Lightning avoided what would have been their first three-game losing skid of the season. Now they’ll get a couple of days to get ready for the New Jersey Devils.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Stamkos’ goal, which tied the score at 1-1 early in the second.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Jonathan Drouin – Lightning. Assist. Was a magician with the puck all night.
2.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 23 saves to earn first NHL win.
3.Anton Stralman – Lightning. Rock-solid defensive performance.