There was a reason why, immediately after this victory, the Lightning held a team meeting. The players knew they hadn’t performed well against the Winnipeg Jets. In this game, however, they got away with it. The Lightning ended their two-game losing skid and moved back above the playoff cut line.
But the reality is this – the Winnipeg Jets, for much of Thursday’s game, outplayed the Lightning. The visitors outshot the Bolts, 41-26, and played a passionate, inspired game. Part of that Winnipeg passion stemmed from the desire to bounce back from a poor performance in a loss on Tuesday to Carolina. The Jets players also endured a hard practice on Wednesday. Then, in this game, late in the second period, they lost Bryan Little after a hard hit from Anton Stralman. At the beginning of the third, Jets head coach Paul Maurice was tossed from the game. Those elements created an emotional firestorm for the Jets, who were able to rally from a 4-1 third period deficit and take a brief 5-4 lead.
But even before the Little injury, the Jets had the Lightning back on their heels at different points in the game. Most of the first period took place in the Lightning defensive zone. But despite their passion, the Jets were not immune to committing defensive mistakes. One of those errors led to a wide open shot for Victor Hedman, who gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead with 4:22 left in the period. Just over two minutes later, Alex Killorn capitalized on a misplayed puck from Ondrej Pavalec behind the Winnipeg net and he set up Jonathan Marchessault for another goal. Then, in the final minute of the period, the Jets lost coverage on Steven Stamkos, who jumped on a rebound and added a a third Lightning goal.
So despite getting outshot, 13-8, in the first, and not dictating play for much of the opening period, the Lightning had a three-goal lead after 20 minutes. The Jets continued to press in the second and held the Lightning to just two second period shots for over 14 minutes. Tyler Myers’ goal at 13:45 cut the Lightning lead to 3-1. Then, with just under three minutes left in the frame, Stralman hit Little. Blake Wheeler retaliated on Stralman and received an extra minor. Then, Maurice was also given a bench minor. The Lightning had a five-on-three for a full two minutes, but couldn’t score.
Even though the Bolts came up empty on that long five-on-three, Killorn eventually did extend the Lightning lead to 4-1 with an early third period goal. But the Jets got that goal back when Mark Sheifele scored late on a Winnipeg power play. That goal again sparked the Jets, who put relentless pressure on the Lightning during the next several minutes. The Lightning surrendered a shorthanded goal after losing a d-zone puck battle and another tally after a neutral zone turnover and a Jets counter led to Ondrej Palat accidentally knocking the puck into his own net. After Mathieu Perreault scored on a rebound during another Winnipeg power play at 14:40, the Lightning trailed for the first time in the game. But Nikita Kucherov saved the game for the Lightning, answering the Perreault goal with a tally of his own on the next shift.
Winnipeg had the better chances in overtime, but Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was excellent in this game despite allowing five goals, made several terrific stops. In the shootout, the Lightning got goals from Ryan Callahan and Steven Stamkos to earn the extra point.
A loss in this game, one they led 4-1 in the third, would have been a terrible blow to the Lightning. For the past couple of days, they’ve talked about the need to shore up their defensive play. It didn’t happen tonight. Plus, the power play, which squandered both the two-minute five-on-three and a four-on-three in OT, hurt them greatly. Undoubtedly, they’ll need to be much sharper when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday afternoon.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Kucherov’s tying goal in the third period, which came 24 seconds after Winnipeg had grabbed a 5-4 lead.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Andrew Ladd – Jets. Two goals. Now has 200 career goals.
2.Andrei Vasilevskiy – Lightning. Despite allowing five goals, he had a tremendous game.
3.Dustin Byfuglien – Jets. Assist. 30:18 TOI.