Heading into this contest, Lightning players talked about wanting to play a full 60-minute game. It was something they hadn’t yet done in the 2015-16 season. Well, they are still seeking that full 60-minute performance after this game, one that had some rough stretches for the Bolts. But they also carried play themselves at different points in the game. They were strong in the first half of the first period and then, especially dominant the closing minutes of the third after they had broken a 1-1 tie. And ultimately, they got the win, which is the most important takeaway from this game.
For most of the first half of the first period, the Calgary Flames couldn’t clear the puck out of their own zone. The Lightning were hungry on the forecheck and enjoyed long sustained offensive zone shifts. That extensive puck possession didn’t lead to a lot of scoring chances, though. The Flames, who are one of the best shot blocking teams in the league, blocked 11 first period Lightning shot attempts – and most of those came in those opening minutes. Still, the Lightning did well in playing a north-south game and winning lots of puck battles. The Flames finally got some momentum after receiving a first period power play about halfway through the frame. The second half of the period was more evenly played – and Ben Bishop needed to make several tough saves to keep the game scoreless.
The Lightning started the second period strongly and generated some dangerous looks off the rush. Steven Stamkos had a goal disallowed (correctly) in the opening minute when he kicked in a centering pass from Ryan Callahan. Shortly thereafter, though, Brian Boyle received a cross-ice pass from Braydon Coburn and wristed a right circle shot past Calgary goalie Karri Ramo.
Scoring first was important for the Lightning, who have been chasing deficits often during their 2-6-1 skid. But they couldn’t hold the lead. A few minutes after Boyle’s goal, the Lightning went on the penalty kill and Sam Bennett tied the game on a nifty tip from the slot. The Flames controlled the rest of the period – and those final 13 minutes were the Lightning’s roughest of the night. Their puck management and passing was not crisp. Nor was their rush coverage – the Flames generated numerous chances off the rush. Compounding the matter was the Lightning’s struggles in the faceoff circle. The Flames won 16 of 23 second period faceoffs, which fueled their momentum surge. But Bishop was terrific in making 14 second period saves, keeping the game tied at one.
In terms of puck possession, the Flames continued to control much of the play in the opening minutes of the third period. The Lightning were stuck with just one shot on goal for the first nine minutes and were pinned back in their own end on a number of different shifts. But shortly after the nine-minute mark of the third, the Lightning began pushing back. Andrej Sustr had a good chance off the rush and then Anton Stralman followed with two other dangerous shots. Soon after, Mark Giordano took a penalty for tripping and the Lightning went on their second power play. Even though they lost a majority of faceoffs in the game, the Lightning won the draw to start the power play. The Flames never cleared the zone. As mentioned earlier, the Flames are an excellent shot blocking team. But sometimes, a blocked shot close to the net can lead to a scramble play. After Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson both had their shots blocked, the puck bounced into the slot. As the Calgary defenders tried to grab the puck, Johnson tapped it to Alex Killorn, who spotted Stamkos at the left circle. Because of the scramble in front of Ramo, the Flames left Stamkos open. He buried his shot past Ramo, who couldn’t get over to his left in time. The Lightning had the lead back with 7:09 left.
Sean Monahan, who was a threat throughout the night for Calgary, had a Grade-A chance on the next shift. But outside of that one look, the Lightning dominated those closing minutes. They effectively pressured the puck in the offensive zone and wouldn’t let the Flames exit. With time ticking down, Kucherov stole a clearing attempt and held the puck in at the center point. He and Johnson completed a passing sequence which ended with Johnson scoring from the left circle. Beyond the goal, however, it was a tremendous finish for the Lightning, who played their best hockey of the night after they took the 2-1 lead.
It was a team win for the Lightning, but there were excellent individual performances that warrant acknowledgment. Bishop was fantastic, especially when the Lightning’s play dipped after the strong start and after Bennett tied the game at one. Matt Carle played his best game of the season and was a force in the team’s third period surge. And it was also Sustr’s best game of the season. He had nine shots all year before tonight, but added four more to his total in this game. They were good scoring chances, occurring because he jumped into the play at the right time. And like his performance on Tuesday against Buffalo, Ryan Callahan was again a dominant force for the Lightning – he played over 19 minutes in the game.
I know I’ve written and spoken of this before, but hopefully the Lightning can use this game as a springboard. Not only was it a much-needed win, it was impressive how they closed out this game. We’ll see if they can carry the way they finished this game into the start of Saturday’s divisional matchup with the Florida Panthers.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Bishop’s key saves on Monahan throughout the game.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 30 saves.
2.Matt Carle – Lightning. Outstanding game.
3.Sean Monahan – Flames. Five shots.