Prior to this five-game road trip, the Lightning had completed three other five-game trips. In all of those trips, they dropped the final game. But that didn’t happen in this one, which not only concluded the road trip, but also completed the road portion of the regular season schedule. While it was a solid team win, two performances stood out. Steven Stamkos provided two key second period goals and Ben Bishop stopped 34 Florida shots to earn his fourth shutout of the year. For Bishop, it was also his 38th win of the season, a new personal best and franchise record.
The first period was evenly played. Both teams had some dangerous looks in front of the opposition net, but pucks bounced off (or skipped past) the sticks of the attacking players. Both teams skated well, however, and whistles were kept to a minimum. At one point, the clubs skated for more than 10 minutes without a whistle. The first period ended in a scoreless tie. Both teams had seven shots, but most of those that went on net weren’t Grade-A chances.
The chances picked up in the second period – and the Panthers got the first of those just seconds into the frame. Moments after the opening faceoff, Tomas Kopecky split the Lightning defense and had a breakaway on Bishop. Bishop stopped the attempt with his left skate, however, and then Slater Koekkoek knocked the puck away from the goal line. The Lightning took a penalty at 2:16 of the period, leading to Florida’s second chance of the night. But the Bolts were terrific in killing off the opportunity – and even had a few shorthanded rushes up ice. Shortly after the penalty was killed, the Lightning earned their first (and only) power play of the night. Nikita Nesterov, who has been playing the point on the power play on one of the units during the past few games, made several excellent plays at the offensive blue line to keep pucks in the zone. One of those, which allowed him to escape a pressuring Panther penalty killer, led to a Lightning goal. Nesterov passed the puck to Tyler Johnson at the right circle, who immediately wired a cross-ice pass to Stamkos. Stamkos one-timed the shot past Roberto Luongo’s stick. The Lightning now have scored a power play goal in four straight games, matching the longest such streak they’ve had this year.
The Bolts didn’t build momentum from that goal, however. For the next several minutes, the Panthers applied pressure in the Tampa Bay d-zone. The Lightning had problems executing clears and when they did, they didn’t work the puck deep into the Florida zone. As a result, the Lightning players were often stuck out for long shifts. But without the puck, the Lightning defended well and kept Florida’s chances to a minimum. When Florida did generate a chance, Bishop stopped it.
About five minutes after the power play goal, Ryan Callahan stole a pass from Erik Gudbranson and fed Stamkos at the right circle. Stamkos ripped a shot over Luongo’s glove to extend the lead. The Panthers continued to apply pressure in the final eight and a half minutes of the period, but it wasn’t as consistent. As the frame wound down, the Lightning had some extended offensive zone shifts of their own. The period ended with the Bolts leading, 2-0.
Just 63 seconds into the third, it became 3-0. Stamkos fed a long pass to Callahan, who skated into the Florida end in a one-on-one rush. He wristed a shot from the right circle that hit Luongo and rolled across the goal line. That tally took much of the wind out of the Panthers’ sails. Florida had a chance in the second half of the period to cut into the deficit when they received two power plays (that overlapped so the Panthers had a five-on-three for 24 seconds). But the Lightning killed off both infractions. Late in the third, Jonathan Drouin forced a steal behind the Florida net and set up Johnson for the fourth and final goal.
This was a solid road win. Tampa Bay’s special teams were outstanding. Stamkos scored off two tremendous shots. And while the Panthers enjoyed some stretches in which they had a puck possession advantage, the Lightning defended well without the puck. And when Florida had chances, Bishop made the saves. An excellent way to finish the road trip and secure home ice advantage in the first round.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Stamkos’ PPG, which broke the scoreless tie.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Two goals and assist.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 34 saves for shutout win.
3.Ryan Callahan – Lightning. Goal and assist.