Dating back to last year, the Lightning have had their struggles in the second half of back-to-back games. In the second game of this back-to-back, the Lightning were facing a Toronto team that hadn’t played in a full week. Typically, a good formula for success in winning that second game is to avoid having to play from behind. That’s because it can be extremely tiring to play catch-up all game, especially against a fresher opponent. But the Lightning did have to play from behind, trailing 3-1 in the second period. So they needed to use a different formula. That formula included using hard work to make key plays in the offensive zone. As a result of their five-goal performance, the Lightning won their first game of the year in which they trailed after two periods.
Even though Nikita Kucherov scored on a breakaway early in the game and the Lightning took a 1-0 lead, the first period wasn’t a good one for the Lightning. A couple of minutes after Kucherov’s goal, the Maple Leafs received a power play chance. While they didn’t score on it, they recorded six shots on goal and generated a lot of momentum. Momentum that they maintained for the rest of the period. They eventually scored a power play goal during a second opportunity and then grabbed the lead with under two minutes left in the frame. During the period, the Leafs were quicker to loose pucks. When the Lightning had possession, Toronto pressured the puck carrier effectively. The Lightning’s passing wasn’t crisp in the opening period either. All these factors led to a large puck possession advantage for the Leafs, who outshot the Bolts, 16-4, in the first.
In the second period, the Lightning’s play began to improve. They executed better, so they had more of the puck possession. Their urgency-level was higher, too, so they were able to win more of those loose pucks. They also received three power play chances. But they squandered all three opportunities, including a long five-on-three. Just as the last of those penalties expired, the Leafs scored another goal. It came, literally, off a bad break – Jonathan Marchessault’s stick broke as he attempted a one-timer. Leo Komarov then slid the puck past Marchessault to Morgan Rielly, who converted off a two-on-one rush.
That swing could have been devastating for the Lightning. They had failed to tie the score on a long five-on-three and instead found themselves down by two goals with under eight and a half minutes left in the second. But the Lightning didn’t allow the circumstances to adversely affect their work ethic. They continued to win pucks and set up chances. As time ticked down in the period, Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos both had good looks at the Toronto net, but their shots missed the cage. Moments after the Stamkos miss, though, Kucherov set up Anton Stralman in the high slot. Stralman took the puck closer to the net and zipped a shot past the stick of Jonathan Bernier. The goal, which cut the deficit to one, came in the final minute of the second period.
Goals scored in the final minute of a period are often crucial momentum-swinging tallies. And this one was for the Lightning. In the third, they killed off an early penalty (it was their best kill of the night) and tied the score a few minutes later. Mike Blunden, celebrating his 29th birthday, took the puck down the left wing and wristed a shot past Bernier’s glove. Yanni Gourde, who was making his NHL debut (and celebrating his 24th birthday), earned his first NHL point with an assist on the goal.
On the next shift, Marchessault curled out of the left corner in the offensive zone, walked to the high slot and snapped a shot past a screened Bernier. The Lightning had scored two goals in a 36-second span to take a 4-3 lead.
The Lightning handled the next several minutes well, controlling most of the puck possession and generating some other chances to add to the lead. But following a rare intentional offside call on the Lightning, the Leafs got an offensive zone faceoff. After a cover-up by Andrei Vasilevskiy after the first faceoff, the Leafs won the next one. Roman Polak and Daniel Winnik teamed up on a nice play to tie the game with 6:32 left.
In overtime, Vasilevskiy made a tough save on Jake Gardiner. Later, Vladdy Namestnikov took a puck from behind the Lightning net and outskated P.A. Parenteau down the ice, creating a two-on-one. Vladdy finished the shot past Bernier’s stick to win the game for the Lightning.
It wasn’t a perfect game for the Lightning. They struggled at times with puck management and yielded some prime scoring chances. But their mettle and resolve, especially given the circumstances, was impressive. They were the more tired team, yet were still able to rally from a 3-1 deficit.
It’s been a tough season offensively so far for the Lightning. But on this night, they rediscovered their scoring touch. The contributions came from a variety of sources, including Blunden, who scored his first NHL goal in nearly four years and Marchessault, who now has five career NHL goals. This was an important component to the win, because they needed all five of the goals that they tallied.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Namestnikov’s GWG in OT. (Stralman’s goal was a close runner-up).
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Vladdy Namestnikov – Lightning. GWG and assist.
2.Anton Stralman – Lightning. Crucial goal late in the second period.
3.Tyler Bozak – Maple Leafs. Goal (his 100th career NHL regular season goal) and assist.