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Mishkin's Extra Shift: Nikita Kucherov helps Bolts close out Habs

by Dave Mishkin / Tampa Bay Lightning

While there were several key moments in this game, none was bigger than Nikita Kucherov’s goal at 15:35 of the first period. In losing Games Four and Five, the Lightning hadn’t gotten the lead. That Kucherov tally gave them the lead in Game Six and it was integral in how the rest of the game unfolded.

Heading into Game Six, Lightning players vowed to play with a level of urgency that had not been consistently present in the past few contests. But for much of the first period, the Lightning looked a bit jittery. So too did the Canadiens. It seemed that neither team wanted to make a critical mistake. A Lightning miscue in front of Ben Bishop led to an open point blank chance for Tomas Plekanec, but Bishop stopped the shot with the top of his left pad. On another play, Nikita Nesterov fell down trying to defend a Montreal rush, but then scrambled to the front of the net to deny a scoring chance for Brandon Prust. As I mentioned, however, the Habs also had some shaky moments – and one of those led to the opening goal. After blocking a Kucherov attempt, the Habs turned the puck over the Ondrej Palat. Palat peeled out of the right corner and stepped to the right circle. He fired a shot that Kucherov tipped over Carey Price’s left shoulder.

That goal set in motion how much of the rest of the game was played. It settled down the Lightning and forced the Habs to chase a deficit. Just over a minute after the goal, P.K. Subban shot the puck out of play and took a delay of game minor. While the Lightning didn’t score on the power play, they generated several dangerous looks (and fired five shots on Price). The period ended with the Lightning up, 1-0, and they carried that momentum into the second.

The Bolts dominated the early part of the second period. They kept the Habs hemmed back in the Montreal d-zone and applied constant pressure. They eventually added to the lead when Matt Carle won a puck battle in the neutral zone and pushed the puck forward to Alex Killorn. Killorn brought the puck into the offensive end and slid it to Steven Stamkos. Stamkos whistled a wrist shot through the legs of defenseman Jeff Petry and over Price’s glove for a 2-0 lead.

The Habs pushed back after the Stamkos goal and did spend some time in the Lightning end. But the Lightning defended well without the puck and, unlike the early part of the game, were able to execute clears (which prevented the Canadiens from enjoying extended offensive zone shifts). Montreal received a late second period power play chance, but the Lightning got through the kill. Bishop made key stops on P.A. Parenteau and Max Pacioretty. He also caught a break when Parenteau put the rebound from the Pacioretty shot off the goal post. Moments later, the Lightning received their second power play chance and netted a third goal. A give-and-go passing play between Kucherov and Palat led to Palat snapping a close range shot past Price’s stick. The tally came with just 1:04 left in the second.

In the third, the Lightning played a textbook defensive period. They repeatedly broke up plays in the neutral zone and forced the Habs to take the puck 200 feet. They had one miscue – Dale Weise got loose for a breakaway about eight minutes in – but Bishop made the glove save. The Montreal goal came off a broken play – a Lightning clearing attempt hit off the glass and ricocheted to Brendan Gallagher. He set up Pacioretty for a tap-in at 15:03. But the Habs would get no closer. Kucherov iced the game – and the series – with an empty-netter at 17:59.

This was, by far, the Lightning’s best game in the series. They had a shooter’s mentality from the get-go and outshot Montreal, 28-19. (It was the only game in the series in which the outshot the Habs). They pressured the puck. They defended well. And when there were isolated breakdowns, Bishop made key saves. It’s true that they needed that Kucherov goal to get them on their game. But once they were on it, they didn’t let up. There were no passengers in this one. Everyone contributed in what was a complete team win.

I’ll have a full recap of this series in my next Mishkin’s Musings column. Look for it in the coming days.

Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

Kucherov’s first period goal, which set the tone for the rest of the game.

Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):

1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 18 saves.

2.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two goals and assist.

3.Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat (tie) – Lightning. GWG for Stamkos and goal and assist for Palat.

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