While it’s true that the score went back and forth (the Lightning surrendered leads of 3-1 and 4-3), it’s also true that the Bolts, after getting through three early penalty kills, enjoyed the run of play. They outshot the Islanders, 42-31, and had the majority of the scoring chances. But the early part of the game belonged to the Islanders. Their power play was dangerous – and they gained momentum from those three opportunities that occurred in the first 12 minutes of the game. The Isles scored the game’s first goal four seconds after the second power play chance expired, so the third kill was especially important for the Lightning. They killed it off successfully, preventing the Islanders from grabbing a 2-0 lead.
Once the Lightning got through those three kills, they began pushing back. Just over 90 seconds after the last penalty expired, the Lightning tied the game. Nikita Kucherov redirected a slap-pass from Alex Killorn over the glove of Thomas Greiss. After the Lightning won the ensuring center ice faceoff and dumped the puck into the New York end, J.T. Brown pressured Thomas Hickey behind the Islanders net. As a result, Hickey hurried the puck up the middle of the ice. Vladdy Namestnikov stole it and snapped a shot (again) over Greiss’ glove. The two goals, which came nine seconds apart, tied a franchise record for the fastest in Lightning history.
For much of the rest of the game, the Lightning forechecked effectively and forced turnovers in the New York end. They also attacked the offensive zone with speed. Consequently, they had most of the puck possession, shots and scoring chances. But until the final 10 minutes, they couldn’t pull away on the scoreboard. After Steven Stamkos put in a rebound of a Jason Garrison shot early in the second period, the Lightning had a 3-1 lead. But it only lasted 23 seconds. On the next shift, Shane Prince stole the puck at his defensive blue line and finished a two-on-one rush with a shot into the top of the Lightning net. Johnny Boychuk’s point shot late in the second deflected off Andrej Sustr and past Bishop to tie the game. So despite outshooting the Isles, 17-7, in the second, the Lightning found themselves in a 3-3 game after 40 minutes.
Sustr scored at 6:03 of the third to give the Lightning a 4-3 lead. But similar to the Prince goal, the Isles answered on the next shift. Nineteen seconds later, Nikolay Kulemin’s shot from the left circle eluded Bishop.
One of the Lightning’s best lines in the game was the unit of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Marchessault. Up until the final 10 minutes of the game, Greiss had denied all of their scoring chances. But with just under 10 minutes left, Marchessault wired a shot from the right circle on net. Greiss made the initial save as well as a rebound chance for Palat. But Johnson followed the second rebound and slid it in the net to make it 5-4. That line stayed out for the next shift and struck again. Palat carried the puck into the offensive zone and slipped a cross ice pass to an unguarded Garrison, who was flying down the left wing. He roofed his shot over Greiss to give the Bolts a 6-4 lead. The Johnson and Garrison goals came 23 seconds apart. Up 6-4 with 9:28 left, the Lightning managed the final minutes well. Although the Islanders pulled Griess with over three minutes left, they couldn’t cut into the Lightning lead and Victor Hedman iced the win with an empty netter.
Obviously, the other big story from this game was the injury to Anton Stralman, who suffered a fracture in his left leg early in the game. The Lightning must persevere without him – as they did tonight. The Islanders, after their third first period power play, were outshooting the Lightning, 10-6, so the Bolts outshot the Isles, 36-21, for the rest of the game.
The Bolts complete this back-to-back on Saturday, when they host the Florida Panthers. Both teams have 91 points and each has eight regular season games remaining. The winner of that game will not only take over first place in the Atlantic Division, but also move two points closer to securing a playoff berth.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Jason Garrision – Lightning. Goal and two assists.
2.Ondrej Palat – Lightning. Three assists. Eight shots.
3.Jonathan Marchessault – Lightning. Two assists.