Many people expect this series to be a close, hard-fought battle. If Game One is any indication, it will be. Both teams generated numerous scoring chances and both goalies were fantastic. In the end, it came down to one play – and Nikita Kucherov made it, whistling a shot past Carey Price’s glove early in double overtime to give the Lightning a dramatic Game One win.
Though the game started with a dangerous chance for Ondrej Palat on the first shift, it was the Habs who posted most of the early scoring chances. Ben Bishop made several key saves in the first to keep them off the board. Montreal received the game’s first power play chance with about seven minutes left in the first. The Habs posted four shots on the man advantage. But the Bolts got through the kill and gained momentum from it. They carried play for the rest of the period and ended up outshooting Montreal, 11-10, in the frame.
The second period featured some more good scoring chances for the Lightning, including an in-alone chance for Andrej Sustr and some decent looks on an early power play opportunity. But the Bolts also spent quite a bit of time defending in their own zone. Much of that defending was due to ineffectiveness in the faceoff circle. The Lightning won just 38% of faceoffs in the game – and in the second period, many of those faceoff losses came in the d-zone. But as he did in the first, Bishop denied every Montreal chance. His best save came off a shorthanded two-on-one rush for Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec. Plekanec wristed a high shot from the right circle, but Bishop stacked his pads and snared the puck with his glove.
Early in the third, the Lightning broke the scoreless tie. They worked the puck deep in the Montreal end and cycled it around the zone. Matt Carle stepped into a shot from the left circle and Tyler Johnson, standing in the low slot, redirected it into the net. The goal came at the 2:34 mark. For much of the next 12 minutes, the Lightning dictated play. Price had to make two tough saves on Ryan Callahan to keep the deficit at one. Then, Kucherov missed high on a shot after he and Ondrej Palat broke in on a two-on-one. Montreal only posted four shots on Bishop during that time span and none of them was dangerous.
The Habs eventually tied it, though, when a Pacioretty shot hit Bishop’s glove and bounced into the net. It came with 5:13 left and set the stage for overtime. The Pacioretty tally was Bishop’s only miscue of the night – and significantly, he didn’t let it affect his performance afterwards.
The Lightning thought they might have won the game early in the first OT when Kucherov got a breakaway. Price made the save but then swiped the puck into his own net. However, the goal was disallowed because the official deemed that Kucherov had pushed his stick into Price’s pad. Such a call is not reviewable. It was a tough call to swallow, but the Bolts played through the adversity. They continued to press and seemed to maintain good jump as overtime progressed. Montreal’s best chance in the first OT came during a two-on-one rush, but Bishop made a nice stop on Jacob De La Rose’s attempt.
Kucherov’s winner came at 2:06 of double OT. After taking a shot on Price, Brian Boyle battled for the puck in the offensive zone. Habs’ defenseman Greg Pateryn tried to put it up the boards, but Filppula swooped in to grab it instead. Filppula slid a pass into the slot for Kucherov, who had just come off the Lightning bench. He moved the puck from his backhand to forehand and zipped a quick shot past Price’s glove. Game over.
As I wrote at the top, this was a close game that could have gone either way. Both goalies gave their team a chance to win. It likely is the first of many games to be played similarly in this series.
From the Lightning’s perspective, this was a gutty, team win. There were tough circumstances to overcome. When the puck was dropped shortly after 7:00 PM, they were less than 48 hours removed from their dramatic Game Seven win over Detroit on Wednesday. The Bolts dealt with the momentary loss of Tyler Johnson in the third period after Johnson was cross-checked by Brendan Gallagher. Johnson returned before the period ended, though, and took a regular shift for the rest of the game. And if they were fatigued, they didn’t let it cost them the game. Tired players are more likely to make crucial mistakes, but the Lightning limited their errors in the overtime sessions. They showed resolve in not buckling after surrendering the late third period goal and witnessing the disallowed goal in the first OT. In all, it was an impressive team victory. And fitting that Kucherov ended up with the winner.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Kucherov’s winning goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. GWG in Double OT.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 43 saves.
3.Carey Price – Canadiens. 33 saves.