Like Game Two, Game Three featured a multitude of different storylines. A mysterious ailment for Ben Bishop. A dominant 10-minute stretch in the first period for Chicago that could have yielded multiple goals, but only netted the ‘Hawks one. A failed five-on-three power play for the Lightning. Two third period goals only 13 seconds apart. And the winning tally coming with 3:11 left in the third. When it was over, the Lightning had secured a franchise-best eighth road win of the playoffs and had taken a 2-1 series lead.
As a whole, the first period was not a good one for the Lightning. But it didn’t start badly. The Lightning carried play in the opening minutes and recorded two early scoring chances for Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman. Just over five minutes in, Ryan Callahan received a stretch pass from Victor Hedman and blasted a slap shot over the glove of Corey Crawford. At that point, shots were 5-3 in favor of the Bolts. Soon after the Callahan goal, however, the ‘Hawks took control. The Lightning struggled in every facet of the game. They had no sustained pressure in the Chicago end. Their rush coverage was sloppy, so the ‘Hawks continually attacked the Lightning end with speed. Their d-zone coverage was loose, so the skilled Chicago players weaved through the Lightning end and created dangerous chances. When the Lightning had the puck in their own zone, they couldn’t execute clears. And even Bishop, who was excellent in holding the ‘Hawks to just one goal in the period, had problems with his rebound control. That allowed the ‘Hawks to generate some second and third chances after taking initial shots. After the Callahan goal, the ‘Hawks posted the next 16 shots in the game. (There was also an open net missed by Marian Hossa). The 14th of those shots was a goal, scored by Brad Richards during a power play at 14:22. After that goal, however, the Lightning did a good job in turning off the Chicago faucet. They kept the ‘Hawks at bay for the final few minutes of the period with better puck management and more offensive zone time.
Still, it was a rough first for the Bolts, who were outshot, 19-7. Shot attempts in the frame were 30-11 in favor of the ‘Hawks. Jon Cooper addressed the team after the first and the Bolts rebounded with an excellent second period. They posted the first six shots in the period and the first of those, a shot from Stralman, deflected off Crawford and hit the post. As a whole, the Lightning played a much cleaner second period and, as a result, enjoyed much more puck possession. However, Bishop still needed to make several key saves, including a stop on an Antoine Vermette breakaway. Crawford also stopped a breakaway, denying a Nikita Kucherov forehand deke. As well as they played in the middle period, the Lightning squandered a golden chance to take the lead. They received a long five-on-three power play with 4:08 left in the period and did very little with the opportunity. They posted only two shots during the five-on-three and were guilty of overpassing in the offensive zone. The ‘Hawks gained a lot of momentum from the successful kills and the United Center crowd was as loud as it got all night (even after the Chicago goals). There were just over two minutes left in the second once the ‘Hawks got back to five-on-five. But the Lightning did well to get out of the second period with the game still tied at one.
Alex Killorn had a good look in the opening shift of the third period, but then the ‘Hawks controlled much of the next four minutes. Chicago posted six unanswered shots, getting a goal on that sixth shot. Bishop made a terrific save on a point blank shot for Brandon Saad shortly after the Killorn chance. But he couldn’t stop Saad’s high shot from the slot, which came after the Lightning failed to clear their d-zone. That goal gave Chicago a 2-1 lead at 4:14. On the ensuing shift, however, Tyler Johnson fed Kucherov into the offensive zone and he brought the puck to the net. Ondrej Palat crashed the net and stuffed in a loose puck, tying the game 13 seconds after the Saad goal. It was a critical response. Those 13 seconds were the only time the Lightning trailed in Game Three.
The rest of the period was fairly evenly-played, though the Lightning had a slight advantage in puck possession and dangerous chances. Stamkos was denied off a slapshot from the left circle and Cedric Paquette had a breakaway in which the puck rolled off his stick right to Crawford. But with time winding down in the third, the Lightning retook the lead. Paquette started the sequence with a defensive zone faceoff win. Ryan Callahan accepted the puck along the boards near his own blue line and threaded a perfect outlet to Hedman, who had jumped in the play. As a result, the rush became a three-on-two. Hedman carried the puck into the offensive zone and, instead of hurrying a pass to either J.T. Brown or Paquette, he patiently stickhandled to the left corner as Paquette made his way to the slot. Hedman fed Paquette, who forced the puck past defenseman Kyle Cumiskey and Crawford for the eventual winner. The Lightning defended well in the closing minutes, holding the ‘Hawks to only one shot down the stretch.
In a game that featured so many twists and turns, here are some takeaways.
-Even though they didn’t often match up against the Toews line (as they did in Games One and Two), the Paquette line had another dominant game. They produced two of the three Lightning goals. They were effective in getting pucks out of trouble and deep into the Chicago zone. Paquette, Callahan and Brown combined for eight of the Lightning’s 32 shots.
-In his post-game press conference, Jon Cooper said that Hedman had a “monster” game. That he did. Hedman finished with two primary assists, four shots, five blocks and led the Lightning with 26:06 TOI. He was a defensive and offensive force for the Lightning.
-It’s unknown exactly what Bishop’s issue is, but he earns high marks for battling through it. As he himself admitted, his rebound control in the first wasn’t great, but that wasn’t a problem in the final two periods. As good as he was in the first, two of his best saves came later in the game – the breakaway save on Vermette breakaway and early third period Saad chance.
-My partner Phil Esposito has often said that when a team squanders a lengthy five-on-three power play, they usually are destined to lose the game. The five-on-three could have been better, but the Lightning’s response after the failed attempts was impressive. The end of the period was near, so that helped, but the Lightning didn’t allow the ‘Hawks to benefit from their momentum surge. Chicago had no shots in the final two minutes of the second after the five-on-three kill was complete. And while Phil’s statement is often true, it wasn’t tonight. Fortunately for the Lightning.
-The Palat goal was the biggest goal of the game. It was an immediate answer to the Saad tally and didn’t allow the ‘Hawks to build any momentum from their tally.
-In the first period, the Lightning learned the hard way how dangerous Chicago can be if you aren’t playing at your best. But they showed resolve in reestablishing control once the second period began.
In Game Four, the Lightning have to be ready for Chicago’s best game. In earlier contests during this playoff run, the Lightning have produced some clunkers after big wins. If they can put forth another performance like this one, though, they’ll have a good chance of taking a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Palat’s third period goal, which came 13 seconds after Chicago had taking the lead.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Victor Hedman – Lightning. Two assists. Team-high 26:06 TOI.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 36 saves.
3.Marian Hossa – Blackhawks. Two assists.