This was a gutsy win for the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy had to come in for an injured Ben Bishop in the first period. Tyler Johnson missed half of the second period due to injury. The Lightning had to kill an early five-minute major penalty. Yet they still managed to beat the hottest team in the NHL, posting a 3-1 road win and grabbing a 1-0 series lead in the process.
The final shooting stats weren’t pretty for the Lightning. The Penguins outshot the Bolts, 35-20, and Pittsburgh had a 70-41 advantage in shot attempts. But those shot metrics don’t really tell the story of the game. Down 3-1 in the third, the Penguins pushed hard to try to slice into the deficit. They had lots of puck possession in the third and outshot the Bolts, 16-5, in the frame. But for the most part, the Lightning limited Pittsburgh’s scoring chances. And Vasilevskiy took care of those chances that the Penguins did have.
Rather than the shot disparity, the story of this game was how hard and effectively the Lightning defended the Penguins. The Lightning avoided any dangerous turnovers, ones that would have given the Penguins counter chances. They held their coverage well in the defensive zone, taking away shooting and passing lanes. And even though they did yield a power play goal to Patric Hornqvist in the game, the Lightning did a fantastic job on the penalty kill. They not only killed off the major penalty (when the game was still scoreless), they also got through two other kills, including one in the final five minutes of the game.
Of course, the Lightning’s ability to make key plays at key times was another storyline. Two of their goals came in the last two minutes of a period. The opening tally came off an incredible stretch pass from Victor Hedman to Alex Killorn. Hedman was standing behind his own net and wired a perfect pass to the offensive blue line. He put the puck off the boards to Killorn, who got behind Olli Maatta. Killorn finished his breakaway to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Ondrej Palat extended the Lightning advantage with a rebound power play goal early in the second. And late in the frame, Valtteri Filppula forced the puck off the stick of Kris Letang at the Lightning blue line, creating a three-on-one rush for the Bolts. Palat set up Jonathan Drouin at the right circle, who one-timed a shot past Matt Murray.
So there were some pretty plays for the Lightning. But this win wasn’t about pretty plays. It was about grinding out a win in the face of more adversity. As they have done throughout these playoffs, the Lightning have shown that they are capable of winning games, no matter who isn’t in the lineup.
There will be more injury questions to answer before Game Two on Monday. How badly is Bishop hurt? Even though Johnson came back in the game, will he feel any adverse effects after taking a knee-to-knee hit from Chris Kunitz? Will Anton Stralman, who is getting closer to returning, be able to play on Monday?
And another question will be answered on Monday. How will the Lightning handle this 1-0 series lead? They know the Penguins will be desperate to tie the series (just as the Lightning, after dropping Game One at home to the Islanders in the last round, played a desperate Game Two). So the Lightning will need to be greedy. They’ve already gotten a split, but they don’t want to be satisfied with the split.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Drouin’s goal, which extended the Lightning lead to 3-0.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Victor Hedman – Lightning. Assist. 27:41 TOI.
2.Alex Killorn – Lightning. Goal.
3.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 25 saves in relief to earn win.