The 2016 NHL Playoffs arrived with a bang on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena. Game One between the Lightning and Detroit Red Wings had everything in it. Passion. Intensity. Snarl. Hits. Scoring chances. Great goaltending. Lead changes. An overturned goal on a successful coach’s challenge. In a game that could have easily gone either way, the Lightning prevailed by a goal to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Based on all those aforementioned elements, the entertainment value was high. Both teams played well and, at different points in the game, kept the other side back on its heels. The Lightning line that did all of the offensive damage was the unit of Alex Killorn (GWG and assist), Tyler Johnson (two assists) and Nikita Kucherov (two goals and assist). But the Bolts got strong performances from all four of their forward lines. The unit of Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Drouin were on the ice when Victor Hedman’s goal was taken away due to an offside. But those three players had numerous other chances to score and combined to post eight shots on net. The other two lines of J.T. Brown, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle, Vladdy Namestnikov and Mike Blunden were both effectively physical on the forecheck and enjoyed long, sustained offensive zone shifts.
While there were many strong efforts on both sides, Hedman may have been the best player on the ice. He was a human vacuum cleaner in the defensive zone, eating up pucks that were heading towards dangerous areas. He repeatedly broke up Detroit rushes, including twice blocking a centering pass during a two-on-one Red Wings chance early in the third period. He skated pucks out of trouble for most of the night and effectively jumped into the play when the Lightning rushed the puck up ice. His goal, though disallowed due to an offside, was a perfect shot into the top of the net.
The Red Wings had their threatening moments in this game, too. While many of Ben Bishop’s 34 saves were routine, he did have to make a number of difficult stops. Those came during a crucial second period penalty kill (after the Wings had rallied for a 2-1 lead), in the early stages of the third (when the game was tied 2-2) and in the closing minutes after the Wings had pulled Jimmy Howard for an extra attacker.
Ultimately, there were two defining moments in this game for the Lightning that helped them persevere. The first came after the Red Wings scored their two goals early in the second to grab a 2-1 lead. Detroit had momentum and went on a power play with a chance to extend the advantage. But the Lightning survived that penalty kill and then, less a minute after killing it off, tied the game when Kucherov netted his second goal of the night. The second came after Hedman’s goal was overturned nearly seven minutes into the third period. Undaunted, the Lightning kept pushing and about two minutes later, did score that third goal. From that point up until the last couple of minutes, the Lightning thoroughly dominated play. Howard made several big saves to keep his team down by only one goal. Still, the Killorn tally proved to be the game-winner.
Game One certainly had its share of twists and turns. What will Game Two bring? We’ll find out on Friday night.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Victor Hedman – Lightning. 29:26 TOI.
2.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two goals and assist.
3.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Two assists.