Boy, did the Lightning need this game. They entered the contest trailing the Ottawa Senators by six points in the Atlantic Division standings. So depending on the outcome, the deficit at night’s end could be as little as four points. Or as large as eight. Thanks to another tremendous performance from Ben Bishop, two goals from Nikita Kucherov and a terrific all-around game from the line of Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan and J.T. Brown, the Lightning picked up a regulation win.
The first period was a rough one for the Lightning. One area where the Lightning have struggled this year is in the first home game back after a road trip. The Lightning were just 1-4 in such games before tonight’s contest. And the Bolts were shaky at the start of of this game in terms of their puck management. They repeatedly turned pucks over in the defensive zone – turnovers that led to some Ottawa scoring chances. They also committed multiple icing infractions that resulted in extended offensive zone time for the Senators. But Bishop made several key saves to keep the visitors off the board. Late in the period, the Lightning converted on a five-on-three power play to grab the lead. After Victor Hedman forced the puck away from Ottawa’s J.G. Pageau in the neutral zone, Steven Stamkos and Kucherov teamed up on a passing play off the rush. Kucherov rifled a shot from the slot over the glove of Craig Anderson. Interestingly, it was a similar five-on-three goal to the one Kucherov scored last Saturday in San Jose – a tally off the rush (and off a pass from Stamkos) in which he ripped a shot over the goalie’s glove.
So despite not playing particularly well in the first, the Lightning came out of the period with the lead. That goal seemed to settle down their game – and the Lightning controlled the first half of the second period. They generated some good scoring chances, but couldn’t extend the lead. Then, in the second half of the period, the Sens pushed back. Their push was helped with two power play chances in the final seven minutes of the frame, but Bishop was again strong. He made a number of crucial stops, including several in the closing moments of the period while the Sens were on the second of those power plays.
The Sens carried 13 seconds worth of power play time into the third, but just as the penalty expired, the Lightning capitalized on a three-on-two rush. Brown took a shot from the left circle and the rebound pinballed into the slot for Filppula. He finished past Anderson’s glove to extend the Lightning lead. The Bolts did well to control much of the early part of the period (as they did in the second) and kept Ottawa’s chances to a minimum. Kucherov made it 3-0 at 8:33 when he stole the puck in the offensive zone and poked in the rebound of his own initial shot. With just under eight minutes left, the Sens got one back during a delayed penalty call and Ottawa enjoyed a few dangerous shifts in the closing minutes. But Bishop didn’t allow another and Brown finished the scoring with an empty-netter.
The Lightning didn’t play a perfect game, especially given their troubles in the first. But their play did improve as the game progressed, helped by the Kucherov goal in the dying seconds of the first. Bishop gave them 30 saves. And the Filppula line was a force, particularly in the third period.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Bishop’s saves late in the second period during an Ottawa power play.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 30 saves.
2.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two goals. 100 career NHL points.
3.Victor Hedman – Lightning. Assist.