This was a tale of three games, one for each period. Fortunately for the Lightning, it scored enough goals in the first two periods to propel them to their fifth consecutive win.
For the first 17 minutes of the first period, the Lightning thoroughly dominated play. The Blue Jackets, missing a handful of players due to injury and another, Jack Johnson, to a suspension, played in Carolina on Friday night. They started goalie Anton Forsberg, who was playing just his second NHL game. The Lightning’s game plan was to jump on Columbus early and put lots of pucks on the young goalie. They did, firing 15 first period shots, and scoring four goals. Three of the four goals were rebound tallies, after Forsberg was forced to make a difficult first save. In addition to scoring those four goals, the Lightning’s overall play was flawless. They worked the puck out of their own zone with ease and attacked Columbus with speed. As was the case during the just-completed four-game homstand, the Lightning received balanced scoring. The Brian Boyle-J.T. Brown-Brendan Morrow line contributed two goals (including Brown’s first of the year), the Vlad Namestnikov-Cedric Paquette-Jonathan Drouin line posted one (Paquette’s third in the last two games) and the top power play unit accounted for the other. The Bolts could have made it 5-0, but Nikita Kucherov narrowly missed finishing a penalty shot. In those first 17 minutes, the Bolts put on a clinic of speed, skill, forechecking and puck management. In the final three minutes of the period, though, the Blue Jackets started pushing back. While they didn’t score, they kept the Lightning pinned in the Tampa Bay defensive zone and earned a power play chance.
The second period was more evenly-played. Columbus tallied two power play goals in the frame and, at other points, looked dangerous off the rush during five-on-five action. But the Lightning also kept generating chances themselves. Tampa Bay fired 18 second period shots on Curtis McIlhinney, who relieved Forsberg after the first. Just as importantly, the Lightning were able to answer each of the Columbus power play goals, shortly after those goals were scored. As a result, the Lightning took a 6-2 lead into the third.
For the past few years, the Blue Jackets have been known as a hard-working, relentless team. During the seven-game winless skid they brought into this game, however, they had not been a hard team to face. (Nor were they in the first period). But they seemed to rediscover their identity in the third. An early goal from Ryan Johansen cut the Bolts lead to 6-3. Unlike in the second period, when the Lightning were able to answer back after a Columbus goal, Tampa Bay yielded another power play goal four minutes later. The lead was down to 6-4 with just under 15 minutes left. Columbus had grabbed the game’s momentum and didn’t let it go for the rest of the game. As crisply as the Lightning played in the first, they struggled with puck management in the third. But after Tampa Bay goalie Evgeni Nabokov allowed that fourth Columbus goal, he was at his best for the rest of the game. He finished with 15 third period stops, including several tough saves. The outcome remained in doubt until Tyler Johnson’s empty-netter in the final minute.
It was not the way the Lightning wanted to finish off this game, especially after building such a big, early lead. It was not a full 60-minute performance. But the shaky third should not – and does not – diminish all of the good things they did earlier in the game. They’ve now won five in a row, matching their longest winning streak from last year (accomplished twice). Still, if they want to extend the streak to six, they’ll likely need closer to a “full 60” when they wrap up the back-to-back Sunday in Detroit.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Nabokov’s third period saves after Columbus cut the Lightning lead to 6-4.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Ryan Callahan – Lightning. Goal and two assists.
2.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Two goals.
3.Nick Foligno – Blue Jackets. Goal and assist.