In the earlier games of this six-game homestand, the Lightning lamented the fact that they had gotten off to slow starts. In four of the first five games of the homestand, the Lightning had allowed the game’s first goal. And they trailed at some point in the first 30 minutes of all five games.
In tonight’s homestand finale against Minnesota, however, the Lightning reversed that trend. Not only did they get off to a much better start in the first period, they produced one of their best periods so far this season. It helped them avoid another early deficit. After following up the first with a strong second period, the Lightning had earned a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes. The third period was, admittedly, a rough one for the Lightning. But even though they surrendered their 2-1 advantage with a late third period goal against, they rebounded well and had a solid finish to regulation and a good overtime. And they picked up the second point by winning the shootout.
So the most important takeaway from this game is that the Lightning did pick up two crucial points. The second most important takeaway is that, for most of the first two periods, the Lightning looked like, well, the Lightning. They played with speed and kept the Wild defenders on their heels. They forced turnovers all over the ice. They made good first passes out of the defensive zone, which allowed them to accelerate up the ice. And they produced several odd-man rushes, one of which yielded Valtteri Filppula’s first period goal.
A big part of the Lightning’s early success can be tied to their only power play opportunity, which occurred just 3:58 into the game. While the Lightning didn’t score on the advantage, they moved the puck around very effectively and posted some dangerous looks. They also possessed the puck in the offensive zone for most of the two-minute span. That solid play during the man advantage gave the Lightning momentum. Momentum they carried forward after the power play ended. Momentum they carried through nearly all of the first two periods.
Similarly, the Wild used an early third period power play to jumpstart their strong final frame. Like the Lightning, Minnesota didn’t score on that opportunity, but it helped the visitors establish a dominant puck possession advantage. Still, in the first 10 minutes or so of the third, even though they didn’t have the puck much, the Lightning defended well and didn’t yield any Grade-A chances. That changed, however, in the second half of the period, as Minnesota began racking up terrific scoring chances. The Wild got a boost from another dangerous power play with just over eight minutes left. Andrei Vasilevskiy made a spectacular pad save on a rebound moments after the power play began. On the same power play, Zach Parise tipped a puck into the net, but the Lightning won a goalie interference challenge, negating the goal. Yet even though it was ultimately unsuccessful, the man advantage gave the Wild more steam and they eventually tied the game on a Jared Spurgeon rebound goal with 2:39 left.
Credit the Lightning for pushing back right after the Spurgeon goal, however. They nearly got the lead back on the next shift, but Devan Dubnyk made consecutive saves on Anton Stralman and Alex Killorn. Then, in what was a very exciting overtime, the Lightning had the run of play. They also generated the best scoring chance, but Dubnyk robbed Victor Hedman by making a lunging save with the shaft of his stick. Regardless of the fact that they couldn’t retake the lead, it was important that the Lightning were able to turn momentum back around after surrendering the late goal.
Fortunately, the Lightning did bank that second point, thanks to Ryan Callahan’s shootout goal. And they’ll now look to take out on the road the fast style of play that brought them so much success in the first two periods.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Jassen Cullimore):
Callahan’s shootout goal, which helped the Lightning earn the extra point.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Jassen Cullimore):
1.Ondrej Palat – Lightning. Assist. Outstanding in return from injury.
2.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 30 saves. Did not allow a shootout goal.
3.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Goal.