There have been Lightning victories this season with a more lopsided final score. There have been games in which the Bolts have had a more decisive shot-on-goal advantage. But given the circumstances – the final game of a road trip against the hottest team in the league – and how well they played, this was the most impressive Lightning win of the season.
The Canadiens had won six straight games and nine of their last 10. They had held the opposition to two goals or less in all 10 contests. They were coming off a 5-0 road trip. But the Lightning dominated the home team for most of the game. They did it in a number of different ways.
First, the Bolts used their speed through the neutral zone to keep the Habs on their heels. Crisp puck management made it possible – the Lightning worked the puck out of dangerous areas seamlessly for most of the game. Second, the Lightning’s gap control and back pressure prevented the Canadiens from generating rush chances themselves. The Bolts played a committed defensive game, especially when the Canadiens attempted to execute their own speed game. Third, the Lightning had a shooting mentality. They cracked double-digit shots in all three periods and were not guilty of, as Jon Cooper sometimes laments, “trying to pass the puck into the net.” Shots led to rebounds and second chance opportunities. J.T. Brown’s goal came off a rebound and Tyler Johnson’s second tally off a goalmouth scramble. Fourth, while the Lightning did struggle in the first period on faceoffs, they got better as the game progressed. Two important faceoff wins during second period power plays led directly to Lightning goals. Fifth, taking a 4-1 lead into the third period, the Lightning played a text-book final 20 minutes. Yes, the Habs netted their second goal five minutes in, but the Lightning didn’t allow Montreal to build any momentum off that goal. Instead, the Lightning kept working the puck deep into the Montreal zone and prevented the Habs from applying any sustained pressure until the final few minutes.
As they have done throughout the year, the Lightning received contributions from a number of players. The line of Brian Boyle, Jonathan Drouin and Brown accounted for the first goal. Brett Connolly jumped on the ice to join Valtteri Filppula and Cedric Paquette for the third tally. And the Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat unit provided multiple goals yet again, the third time on the four-game trip.
As I wrote in a column before the road trip, the Lightning were not only seeking their first win in the final game of a trip, they were looking to avoid laying an egg in that final game. Some of their worst games of the year have come at the end of trips. But not in this trip-ending game. Instead, it was as complete a performance as the Lightning had have all season.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Connolly’s goal, giving the Lightning a two-goal lead late in the second period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Two PPG. Eclipsed 100 career points.
2.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two assists.
3.Brian Boyle – Lightning. Assist.