As was the case on Tuesday against Buffalo, the Lightning were not sharp at points in this game. But also like on Tuesday, the Bolts carried play during other stretches. Ultimately, in both contests, they played well enough to win.
Versus the Sabres, the Lightning struggled in the first half of the first period. That didn’t happen tonight. Though they took a penalty on the opening shift, the Lightning effectively killed off the infraction and controlled play for most of the opening frame. The Lightning scored twice in the period. Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring, burying a wide open look from the slot after the Leafs lost him on rush coverage. Then, a Toronto d-zone turnover led to a Steven Stamkos steal and a cross-ice feed to Ryan Callahan. Callahan’s right point shot deflected off the stick of Toronto d-man Eric Brewer and over the right shoulder of goalie Jonathan Bernier.
Toronto pushed back in the second and spent lots of time in the Tampa Bay defensive zone. The Lightning’s puck management was sloppy, as they repeatedly turned pucks over in all three zones. One of those created a two-on-one for Peter Holland and David Booth. Booth finished the chance to get the Leafs on the board at 6:48. Despite outshooting the Leafs, 10-7, in the period, the Lightning surrendered the more dangerous chances. Also, they didn’t possess the puck nearly as much as in the first. Still, they held onto the lead entering the third.
Vladdy Namestnikov’s goal at 6:31 of the final period helped settle down the Lightning’s game. Andrej Sustr directed a slap-pass to the side of the net and it deflected in off Namestnikov’s skate. The Lightning managed much of the next 10 minutes or so quite well (though they did surrender another two-on-one to Holland and Booth on the shift after their third goal). Eventually, Alex Killorn, who had missed an open net chance earlier in the period, redirected a Stamkos pass into the net for a power play goal at 15:14. The Leafs responded with a Richard Panik deflection goal with 2:18 left. They received a power play chance on the next shift and, after pulling Bernier, spent the final 1:49 on a six-on-four power play. The Leafs posted several shots in those closing minutes, but could get no closer.
This was not a full 60-minute performance for the Lightning. As I mentioned at the top, though, they did play well enough to win. Still, they’ll look to eliminate the dips they’ve endured against Buffalo and Toronto when they finish the homestand Saturday against the Dallas Stars., who are making a late-season push to climb into the Western Conference’s top eight.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Namestnikov’s goal, which gave the Bolts a 3-1 lead in the third.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Two assists.
2.Brian Boyle – Lightning. A key contributor on the PK, which went 3-3.
3.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 25 saves.