The Lightning were deserving of this victory. It was a game in which both teams defended well, so time and space in the offensive zone was limited. It was important, then, that the Lightning were able to score the game’s first goal and therefore play with the lead for the rest of the contest.
The first period was a defensive struggle. Neither team generated much in the way of scoring chances, extended offensive zone time, shots on goal or even just shot attempts. The teams combined for just eight total first period shots and only 20 total shot attempts.
In the second period, play began opening up more. Just over a minute into the frame, Jonathan Huberdeau had a partial breakaway and drew a tripping penalty on Andrej Sustr. But the Bolts killed off the penalty and netted the game’s first goal shortly thereafter. Nikita Kucherov took a lead pass from Nikita Nesterov and skated to the right circle. He wristed a high shot over Roberto Luongo’s glove at 4:21.
That goal sparked the Lightning, who enjoyed the run of play for most of the rest of the period. The Lightning had most of the puck possession in the period and posted 15 second period shots. They put consistent pressure on the Panthers and did so, in part, by activating their defensemen off the rush and after the puck was in the offensive zone. On one sequence late in the second, Sustr skated down low after he brought the puck into the offensive end. Jason Garrison’s shot deflected off a Panthers defender and ricocheted off the glass. It bounced to the other side of the net, where Sustr backhanded it in. On a similar play in the closing seconds of the period, Anton Stralman almost scored, but Luongo made the save.
Luongo made several key stops early in the third period, keeping his team’s deficit at two. Two of his best came back-to-back. He stopped a Tyler Johnson tip, then denied Johnson’s rebound attempt with the shaft of his stick.
Those Luongo saves loomed even larger after Nick Bjugstad put in his own rebound at 8:06, cutting the Lightning lead to 2-1. The Panthers had their best stretch of the game after that goal. They generated a number of shots and scoring chances and kept the Lightning hemmed back in the defensive zone. During that Florida surge, Ben Bishop made a terrific save on Reilly Smith to preserve the Lightning lead. The Bolts also got through a dangerous Florida power play that began with 8:20 remaining.
But once the Lightning killed that penalty, they did well to close out the final six minutes or so of the game. They managed the puck well in getting out of their own zone and didn’t have to spend as much time defending. Eventually, Kucherov finished the scoring with an empty-netter.
Outside of that five or six minute Panthers surge in the third period, the Lightning did well to contain the Florida attack. Florida’s top line of Aleksander Barkov, Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr was held without a shot on goal. And, if not for Luongo, the Lightning likely would have scored more than two goals before Bjugstad got the Panthers on the board. In all, it was a solid victory for the Lightning, who extended their season-long winning streak to five games.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Kucherov’s first goal, which gave the Lightning the lead early in the second period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two goals.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 26 saves.
3.Roberto Luongo – Panthers. 29 saves.