Boy, what a comeback for the Lightning. It’s hard to win games when trailing after two periods. And that’s when the deficit is one goal. It’s even tougher when trailing by two goals. But in this game, the Lightning, down 2-0 after two periods, scored three times in the third to win a game they desperately needed.
It wasn’t exactly scripted the way the Lightning would have liked, however. They wanted a good start that yielded a lead. While they came out of the gates well (unlike in Tuesday’s loss at Calgary), they couldn’t capitalize on their first period puck possession advantage. Some of their most dangerous looks missed the net or were blocked. On the other hand, the Oilers, who were held without a shot for the first 10 minutes of the game, had only three good offensive shifts in the entire period. But they were much more efficient than the Lightning in generating scoring chances during those three shifts. The first required two terrific saves from Ben Bishop (on the Oilers’ first two shots of the game). The second included a Lightning d-zone turnover and Justin Schultz’s goal. And the final one came in the closing seconds of the period. Fortunately for the Lightning, Victor Hedman blocked Leon Draisaitl’s open net chance to keep the deficit at one.
So it was a strange first period. The Lightning did many things well, but didn’t generate enough dangerous chances. And despite dictating play for most of the frame, they surrendered several chances on those three shifts and ended up trailing after 20 minutes.
In the second period, the Lightning began activating their defensemen more. This helped them produce more dangerous chances, beginning with a Hedman opportunity on the opening shift. But the speedy Oilers also got some looks on counter-attacks. And they accumulated a number of them throughout the period. An early second period power play goal for Beniot Pouliot on a tip gave the Oilers a 2-0 lead and sparked the home side. For much of the middle part of the period, the Lightning’s play sagged. The Oilers were the ones with the puck and consistently put shots on net. But after the Pouliot goal, Bishop didn’t allow another.
In the closing minutes of the second, the Lightning pushed back. They had a couple of odd-man rushes (their first ones of the game) and enjoyed a dominant offensive zone shift with about two minutes left in the frame. Despite recording only eight shots in the second – as opposed to nine in the first – the Bolts did have more Grade-A chances than in the opening frame. But they couldn’t score, so the Oilers carried the 2-0 lead into the third.
The Lightning were able to carry over their late second period surge into the third. To begin the frame, they killed off the final minute of a Nikita Nesterov penalty. Shortly thereafter, Ondrej Palat hit the post and the puck ricocheted back underneath Cam Talbot. Bad luck, to be sure, but it was a good chance that fueled more Lightning momentum. Finally, at 3:01 of the third, Nikita Kucherov wristed a shot through a screen past Talbot’s stick. That goal cut the Edmonton lead to one and made the deficit a more manageable one.
With just over five minutes left, the Lightning made the play they needed to tie the score. It started in the defensive zone. Vladdy Namestnikov slipped a forward pass to Hedman, who took off up the ice, creating a two-on-one with Palat. Taylor Hall hustled back to defend Palat, but accidentally put Hedman’s centering pass into his own net.
On the shift after Hedman’s goal, both teams had Grade-A chances, but Bishop stopped Pouliot and Talbot denied Valtteri Filppula. Then, on the next shift, the Lightning were able to grab the lead. Again, it started with a Namestnikov pass to Hedman, but this one was in the offensive zone. The nifty feed allowed Hedman to skate freely to the right circle. His initial shot was blocked, but he pursued his rebound and took it behind the Edmonton net. He then set up Steven Stamkos at the left circle. Stamkos tried to wire a pass through Darnell Nurse’s skates to Namestnikov. Instead, the puck hit Nurse’s skate and went into the net. The Lightning had scored two goals within a 61-second span that both went in off Oiler players. Finally, puck luck, which has gone against the Lightning often this year, went in their favor. But the goals weren’t only due to puck luck. They also happened because of Hedman’s willingness to make those aggressive offensive plays.
The Lightning have had a couple of games this year in which they’ve rallied to take a third period lead, then surrendered the advantage right back to the opposition. They did well in this contest, however, protecting the one-goal margin. After Stamkos’ tally, they yielded only one shot in the final 4:09.
So the Lightning got some breaks in this game. But I believe they earned their breaks. Hedman was the catalyst on the tying and winning goals. Also, Jon Cooper shuffled his lines a bit after two periods and the change worked. The Kucherov-Tyler Johnson-Alex Killorn line accounted for one goal and Palat-Namestnikov-Stamkos were on the ice for the other two.
Now, can the Lightning follow up this dramatic victory with another win? We’ll see how they perform Saturday in Vancouver, where they will finish up the back-to-back against a rested Canucks team.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Stamkos’ GWG with 4:09 left.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Victor Hedman – Lightning. Goal and two assists. Key block late in first.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 24 saves.
3.Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Oilers. Assist.