For most of this game, when the Lightning had the puck in the Arizona end, the Coyotes had no answer for the Tampa Bay attack. In particular, the line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat was virtually unstoppable. Kucherov netted his first NHL hat trick, while Johnson contributed a career-high four assists.
The Lightning scored seven goals – and could have had more. The Bolts hit several posts and also saw a Radko Gudas second period tally disallowed. Their performance in this game illustrates how dangerous they can be when they are utilizing their skill and speed.
The first period was one of the best the Lightning have played all season. Not only did they fire 12 shots on Mike Smith and score two goals, they consistently bottled up the Coyotes in the neutral zone. The Lightning’s defensemen “gapped up” effectively throughout the period, meaning they weren’t backing into defensive zone when Arizona’s players received pucks in the neutral zone. Instead, they stepped up on those Arizona players and took away time and space. Consequently, they repeatedly forced turnovers, which allowed them to re-enter the Arizona end.
The Coyotes played a more spirited game in the second and third periods – and as a result, they were able to spend time in the Tampa Bay end. They also benefited from a few Lightning turnovers. But even though the Bolts weren’t able to maintain their air-tight defensive play in the final 40 minutes (and the Coyotes deserve credit for upping their intensity, which led to some offensive zone opportunities), the Lightning continued to create chances in the offensive third.
There were a couple of key moments in the game. Twice in the second period, the Coyotes sliced a three-goal deficit to two tallies, but the Lightning responded each time. First, after Shane Doan got Arizona on the board, Brian Boyle used his long reach to steal an intended outlet pass in the Arizona zone and he roofed a backhander over Smith’s glove. But the Coyotes scored late in the second to make the score, 4-2. Then, halfway through the third, Kucherov completed his hat trick with a rifled shot from the high slot, reestablishing a three-goal lead. The Coyotes would not get any closer.
Following the disappointing loss in Minnesota to end the road trip, this was a terrific answer for the club. Sometimes the first home game after a long trip can be tricky. But the Lightning handled it well – and thoroughly bounced back from Saturday in St. Paul. They’ll look to keep it going Thursday when the Philadelphia Flyers (who have won three in a row) come to town.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Kucherov’s hat trick goal, giving the Lightning a 5-2 lead in the third period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Hat Trick.
2.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Four assists.
3.Brian Boyle – Lightning. Two goals.