Clearly, the Lightning’s power play, which produced all three of their goals, was a big factor in the Game Four win. But it wasn’t the only reason. After not being able to match Detroit’s compete level in Game Three, the Lightning brought a much higher level tonight. It helped them dictate play for a good portion of both the first and second periods. And although they surrendered a two-goal second period lead (including allowing a goal in the final 10 seconds of the second period) and had to play much of the third period back on their heels, they ultimately found a way to push back in the closing minutes. They brought some pressure, which led to a Detroit penalty and Ondrej Palat’s eventual game-winning power play goal. And after that goal, when the Red Wings made a furious push to tie up the game, the Lightning defended well. Detroit was held to only two shots on goal during those final minutes.
Game Three, to this point in the series, has been the aberration. The Red Wings were decisively the better team. Games One, Two and Four have been similar. Both clubs have brought a high compete level, have carried play at different points in those games, and have been tied, 2-2, in the third period. In all three of those contests, however, the Lightning have been the ones to make the key play in the third period to break the tie.
But it wouldn’t be accurate to state that Game Four was identical to Games One and Two. In this game, the Lightning, through the first 35 minutes, enjoyed the run of play. It’s true that the Red Wings had some dangerous chances at the end of the first period, but the Lightning had more looks during those opening 35 minutes. They scored two power play goals during that timeframe, but could have had some five-on-five goals as well. Petr Mrazek made a number of key saves to keep the Lightning from opening up an even bigger lead.
Then, with just over five minutes left in the second, the Wings scored their first goal. Luke Glendening made a nice play to bat the puck out of the air from one side of the net to the other. It dropped down perfectly to Darren Helm, who scored before Ben Bishop could get over to the post. Then, as time ticked down in the period, the Wings took advantage of a Lightning coverage breakdown. Riley Sheahan stole the puck in the Lightning end and passed it to Gus Nyquist, who snapped a shot past Bishop’s glove.
Those two goals gave the Red Wings momentum for the third period and they enjoyed their most sustained pressure in that final period. The Lightning had to deal with a number of defensive zone faceoffs and didn’t have much offensive zone time. The Bolts only had two shots in the first 14 minutes of the period. The Red Wings, on the other hand, recorded eight shots during that timeframe. They also nearly took the lead with 7:19 left when Dylan Larkin put a backhander off the post during a Detroit power play.
But moments after killing that penalty, the Lightning pushed back. Nikita Kucherov, who had scored the first two power play goals, had two dangerous attempts. Shortly thereafter, Palat had an open look from the slot. His shot missed, but he drew a penalty on Jonathan Ericsson. After scoring on two of their first four power play chances, the Lightning went on their fifth power play opportunity of the game with 4:42 left.
The Lightning’s first power play goal was scored nine seconds after the chance began. Brian Boyle won an offensive zone faceoff. Jonathan Drouin passed the puck to Tyler Johnson in the left corner and Johnson slid a cross ice pass to Kucherov, who hurried his shot into the net before Mrazek could get over.
The second goal was both different – and similar. The Lightning lost the faceoff to start the power play and didn’t have immediate offensive zone time. In fact, the Lightning had partially changed some of the personnel on the first unit. But Kucherov and Drouin stayed out on the ice and, similar to the first goal, passed the puck quickly and effectively. Kucherov wired a cross ice pass to Drouin, who sold a shot from the left circle. Instead of shooting, however, he passed the puck back to Kucherov, who one-timed a shot from the slot into the net.
The eventual winning goal was like the second goal. Again, it came later during the power play. And again, it came off a beautiful passing sequence. Kucherov again wired a pass to Drouin, who on this occasion was at the right circle. Drouin once more sold a shot. Instead, he passed the puck to Palat, who redirected it into the net.
On all three goals, the Lightning’s high-skill players made high-skill plays. They did it with quick puck movement that got the Detroit penalty killers out of position. In a season in which the power play has been a sore spot, it was a big part of their Game Four win.
After Palat’s goal, there was still 2:59 on the clock. The Red Wings repeatedly attacked the Lightning zone in those final minutes, but the Lightning did well to clear pucks out of trouble. They blocked three shot attempts. And they boxed out well in front of Bishop. Unlike earlier in the game, the Red Wings couldn’t tie the score.
The Lightning now have a chance to close out the series with a win on Thursday. They should expect Detroit’s best game yet. And if the Bolts want to avoid a return trip to Detroit for a potential Game Six, they’ll need to match the intensity level they showed in Game Four.
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.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two goals and assist.
2.Jonathan Drouin – Lightning. Three assists.
3.Ondrej Palat – Lightning. GWG.