There were three primary reasons why the Lightning were able to win this game. First, Vladdy Namestnikov recorded his first NHL hat trick and one of those goals was the overtime winner. Second, after the Lightning fell behind, 4-3, late in the third period, they received a critical tying goal from Anton Stralman just 1:32 after Chris Kunitz had given the Penguins their first lead of the night. And third, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, despite allowing four goals in the game, was superb. He made numerous saves throughout the game on glorious Pittsburgh scoring chances.
The Lightning’s best stretch of the game came in the opening four minutes. They seemed poised to pick up where they left off on Tuesday, when they played one of the best games of the season. Like Tuesday, the opening minutes of this game featured crisp passing by the Lightning. The Bolts used their speed to put the Penguins back on their heels. The Lightning posted the game’s first five shots and scored an early goal. Namestnikov took a pass from Steven Stamkos and burst down the right wing. He blew by Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary and snapped a high shot over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove.
But the Lightning didn’t maintain their early momentum. Following a sloppy d-zone turnover, the Lightning took a penalty. Pittsburgh didn’t score on the ensuing power play, but it was a dangerous one. The Pens gained a lot of momentum from that chance and the Lightning never really regained it.
Throughout the rest of regulation time, the Lightning had issues with puck management in the defensive zone. Repeatedly, they struggled to execute clears from their own end. As a result, the Pens stole plenty of pucks, both in the Lightning end and neutral zone. There were also a handful of icing infractions on the Lightning. Pittsburgh’s players were also hard on the puck, winning 50-50 battles and enjoying most of the puck possession. For the game, the Penguins outshot the Lightning, 40-25, which was a 40-20 advantage after those first five shots for the Bolts. In terms of shot attempts, the Pens held an edge of 73-45.
Facing so many shots and under constant pressure, Vasilevskiy stood tall for the Lightning. Fortunately, he spent most of the game protecting a lead. After Kris Letang tied the score at one following a Sidney Crosby offensive zone faceoff win, the Lightning scored the next two goals. They cashed in on three successive Pittsburgh penalties in the second, netting goals a five-on-three and then a five-on-four. But once the Pens got back to five-on-five play, they kept up the pressure. They eventually scored a second period power play goal and tacked on two more in the third. Pittsburgh’s fourth goal came with 6:12 left.
It’s true that the Lightning spent much of regulation without the puck, defending. But on some isolated shifts, they did get the puck into the Pittsburgh end. And when they did, there were able to generate some scoring chances. Fleury wasn’t nearly as busy as Vasilevskiy, but he still made a number of tough saves. During one of those shifts when the game was tied at three, Nikita Kucherov hit the post. Then, a couple of shifts after Kunitz’s goal, the Lightning had the puck again in the offensive end – and cashed in. Stralman skated with the puck to the right circle and did a spin-o-rama. He then roofed a backhand shot over Fleury’s stick.
Overtime was evenly played. Both teams possessed the puck for a portion of it and had some good looks to score. Vasilevskiy made three more saves before Namestnikov completed his hat trick. He sticked home the rebound of a Kucherov shot, giving the Bolts their fourth consecutive win, a season-high.
The Lightning know they’ll need to manage the puck better on Sunday versus Florida. They were able to overcome those issues tonight, thanks to some key plays made at critical times and a tremendous performance from their goalie.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Stralman’s tying goal late in the third.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Vladdy Namestnikov – Lightning. Hat trick, including GWG in OT.
2.Patric Hornqvist – Penguins. Goal and two assists.
3.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. 36 saves.