Boy, was this an important win for the Lightning. It reduced their magic number to clinching a playoff spot to two points. The victory came on the heels of sub-par performances in their previous two games. And they won it with a strong overall effort, particularly in the deciding third period.
Before the game, Jon Cooper stated that, compared to the past two contests, he wanted to see more “hunger” for loose pucks from his team and more shots to the net. He got both in this game, especially during five-on-five play. It was a penalty-heavy game – the teams combined for 13 power play opportunities – so there was a lot of special teams play. But when the game was five-on-five, the Lightning dominated play for most of the night. They were hard on the forecheck and forced lots of turnovers in the New Jersey end. They didn’t spend a lot of time in their own end because their d-zone breakouts were cleaner than they had been in the last two games. At even strength, they outshot the Devils, 26-13, and had most of the puck possession.
But the special teams were another story. The Devils are the lowest scoring team in the NHL, but have a top-10 power play. The Lightning took six penalties leading to New Jersey power plays in this game and the Devils were dangerous on them. Thirteen of their 26 shots came on those six power plays. Most of their scoring chances – and their lone goal – came during their man advantages. At the other end, the Lightning, for much of the night, struggled on their power play chances. But on their seventh and final opportunity, they cashed in. On that play, Brian Boyle screened Cory Schneider on Nikita Nesterov’s point shot. After Schneider made the save, Boyle swept in the rebound. It was a huge goal – one that broke the 1-1 tie with 8:28 left in the third. Hopefully, that goal will help the power play gain some confidence moving forward.
The Boyle goal came on the Lightning’s 34th shot of the game and 15th in the third period. It was a terrific third for the Lightning, who didn’t allow the Devils a shot until there were less than six and a half minutes left in the game. The Devils managed only five third period shots – and four of those came during a late power play.
Based on how frequently the teams around them are winning games, the Lightning cannot expect any help in their drive to clinch a playoff berth. They are going to have to earn it themselves – and they took a big step forward with their victory tonight. Given that Steven Stamkos will be out for a lengthy amount of time (joining Anton Stralman on the injured list), the Lightning will need to replicate this kind of performance on a regular basis.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Boyle’s GWG in the third period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Brian Boyle – Lightning. GWG.
2.Victor Hedman – Lightning. Goal and assist.
3.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 25 saves.