This was one of the best – if not the very best – performances of the season for the Lightning. In every aspect of the game, they played well. They passed crisply, forechecked effectively, managed the puck efficiently and shot the puck frequently. As a result, they have now won three in a row, matching their longest winning streak of the season.
Before the game, Jon Cooper mentioned three keys to the game. First, he wanted the Lightning to start well. Second, he wanted his team to get the lead. Third, since they were playing at altitude, the Lightning players had to make sure their didn’t overextend their shifts. When the air is thin, one long shift can affect a player well beyond the end of that shift.
Mission accomplished on all three counts. The Lightning started very well. They dominated the early minutes of the game, both in terms of puck possession and shot attempts. The good start yielded a first period power play chance and, six seconds after the penalty ended, a lead for the Lightning. Ondrej Palat jumped on the rebound of a Victor Hedman shot and slid the puck past Semyon Varlamov.
Colorado’s most dangerous stretch in the first period came in the closing minutes, when the Avs almost scored during a delayed penalty call and then posted three dangerous shots during the man advantage. But thanks to those four saves from Ben Bishop, the Bolts got through the PK successfully and took their lead into the first intermission.
Early in the second, the line of Vladdy Namestnikov, Palat and Steven Stamkos teamed up for two tic-tac-toe goals. On both, Stamkos received the final pass in a prime scoring area and didn’t hesitate in shooting the puck. His tallies extended the lead to 3-0.
In Washington on December 18, the Lightning similarly grabbed a 3-0 second period lead, but ended up losing 5-3. On that night, the Caps started their comeback with a second period power play goal, cutting the Lightning lead to 3-1. In this game, the Avs received a second period power play (after Bishop made a two-on-zero save on Alex Tanguay). But the Lightning executed a solid penalty kill and didn’t allow the Avs to build any momentum. The Bolts maintained the three-goal lead through 40 minutes.
The third period was textbook. The Lightning continued their solid puck management, repeatedly forcing the Avalanche to track pucks back in the defensive zone. The Lightning maintained their forechecking pressure, which allowed them to spend plenty of time in the Colorado end. The Lightning outshot the Avs, 11-4, in the third, tacking on a fourth goal when Tyler Johnson tipped a Hedman shot past Varlamov.
So the Lightning got the start they wanted and grabbed an early lead. That forced Colorado into catch-up mode for the rest of the game. It also allowed Lightning coaches to manage the minutes of the players so that they didn’t get worn down. Not one Lightning player eclipsed 20 minutes and every player played at least 12 minutes. That’s incredibly efficient bench management.
The Lightning will begin a four-game homestand against Pittsburgh on Friday, looking for what would be a season-long fourth straight win. They will certainly try to build on their performance from tonight’s game.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Palat’s first period goal, which allowed the Lightning to play with the lead for the rest of the game.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Steven Stamkos – Lightning. Two goals. Seven shots.
2.Ondrej Palat – Lightning. Goal and two assists.
3.Ben Bishop – Lightning. Shutout win with 21 saves.