The Lightning have had plenty of games this year in which they’ve played well enough to bank points, but came away empty-handed. What was missing for the Lightning in many of those contests was the presence of a key play. Instead, the other team ended up making a key play – and that was often the difference in the game.
In this evenly-played game between the Lightning and New York Rangers, however, the Bolts were the team that made the key play. It started with a lucky bounce. With the Rangers on the power play in the final two minutes and the score tied at one, Ryan McDonagh at the left point couldn’t handle a pass from Derek Stepan. That bobble allowed J.T. Brown and Valtteri Filppula to counter on a two-on-one shorthanded break. McDonagh hustled back and attempted to disrupt the play. But Brown was able to get the pass past McDonagh to Filppula. Then, Filppula wasted no time in rifling the shot past Henrik Lundqvist, who had been initially set for a potential shot from Brown. The Filppula goal, which was the Lightning’s first shorthanded goal scored so far this year, came with 1:05 left in the third and was the game-winner.
As important as the goal was, it was by no means the whole story of this game. It was the first meeting between the clubs since last year’s Eastern Conference Final and the game was played with high-intensity. As they did in the two previous games against the Florida Panthers last Saturday and Monday, the Lightning had a high compete-level and worked extremely hard. They needed those components in this game. The Rangers came in as the NHL’s hottest team. They had a nine-game winning streak and, with a victory over the Lightning, would have tied a franchise-record with their tenth straight triumph. But even with five regulars out of the lineup do to injury and four recently-recalled players from Syracuse filling in, the Lightning stayed right with the Rangers.
The Lightning started the game strongly, applying heavy forechecking pressure and forcing several turnovers in the Rangers end. As the period progressed, the Rangers began pushing back, also forechecking effectively. As a result, both teams struggled at times clearing their defensive zone. The only goal of the period came during a four-on-four, when Filppula stole a clearing attempt at the offensive blue line and passed the puck to Alex Killorn. From the high slot, Killorn wristed a shot past Lundqvist’s stick.
In the second period, the Lightning did generate several scoring chances. Early in the frame, Brian Boyle had a good look from the slot. Late in the period, Lundqvist stopped a Kucherov attempt with a fine glove save, then robbed Braydon Coburn with a point-blank save after Coburn pinched in from the point. But much of the period was spent in the Lightning defensive zone. The Rangers kept up the forechecking pressure and enjoyed long sustained offensive zone shifts. Despite not having the puck during those sequences, though, the Lightning defended well without the puck. The Rangers were held to just seven second period shots on net. However, many of those seven shots were extremely dangerous. Three of them came during a Rangers power play early in the period. But Ben Bishop stopped those power play chances for Mats Zuccorello, Kevin Hayes and Dan Boyle, as well as the four other shots during the period.
As a whole, the Lightning did a better job in the third of clearing pucks. As a result, they didn’t spend as much time in their own end. But the Rangers still had some looks. Nearly four minutes into the third, Chris Kreider got loose on a breakaway and drew a penalty shot. Bishop made the save to preserve the Lightning lead. Eventually, though, the Rangers tied it. With under six minutes left, Dominic Moore jumped on a loose puck at the right circle and whistled a shot past Bishop.
Both teams received power play opportunities after Moore’s goal. The Lightning got their chance with 5:23 left, but couldn’t score. Then, with less than 90 seconds left, Brian Boyle was called for interference. With a chance to score a power play goal in the final 1:26 of the third, the Rangers were poised to hand the Lightning another excruciating defeat. But, as mentioned above, the Lightning made the play to score a shorthanded game-winning goal. Credit the Lightning, too, for defending well in those final 65 seconds after Filppula’s goal. The Rangers pulled Lundqvist for a six-on-four advantage, a scenario identical to the one on Saturday night, when Florida’s Aaron Ekblad tied the game in the final minute of the third. But despite the two-man disadvantage, the Lightning kept the Rangers mostly on the perimeter and closed out the win.
This was a team victory. The Bolts didn’t have any passengers. Everyone worked hard and provided the necessary effort needed to give the team a chance to beat the Rangers. There were individual standouts, too. Bishop only faced 21 shots, but he made a multitude of crucial, tough saves throughout the night. Jonathan Marchessault, in addition to playing a responsible defensive game, was a threat offensively. In playing on a line with Filppula and Killorn, Marchessault posted three shots. One of those came in the third period and it forced Lundqvist to make a tough glove save. Joel Vermin, making his NHL debut, impressed mightily. He played over 10 minutes and showed no signs of jitters. Instead, he was decisive in making plays and good decisions all over the ice. In addition to setting up the game-winner, J.T. Brown was effective in getting under the skin of the Rangers players. And lastly, Brian Boyle was a workhorse. The Lightning went with only 11 forwards and for most of the night, Boyle centered two separate lines. He was with J.T. Brown and Erik Condra as well as Vermin and Mike Blunden.
Next up for the Lightning is Anaheim on Saturday. Hopefully, some of the injured players will be able to return. If not, however, the Lightning have seen that the call-ups from Syracuse are more than capable of helping them win games.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Filppula’s game-winning shorthanded goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 20 saves, many of them on New York scoring chances.
2.Brian Boyle – Lightinng. Played 19:58.
3.Henrik Lundqvist – Rangers. 26 saves.