Ok, first things first. Losing a game in which you had a lead in the final minute of regulation stinks. And shootout losses especially stink, since it’s a skills competition used to determine a winner.
Now that that’s out of the way, however, there was a lot to like about the Lightning’s performance in this game. For most of the night, they controlled play. They scored four goals – three of those either came on rebounds and/or loose pucks in front. That’s significant because the Lightning had been struggling to generate second chance opportunities during their recent scoring slump. And, while the Lightning would have loved to have closed out the game and earned two points, they still got one. As Jon Cooper often states, the regular season is about “munching points” – the Bolts will bank their point and look to build on the good things they did in this game when the teams meet again on Monday in Sunrise.
As a whole, in terms of applying forechecking pressure, possessing the puck and attempting shots, the Lightning had the upper hand in this game. They also, as referenced above, did a good job of getting to loose pucks in front of the Florida net. Cedric Paquette’s first period goal was off a rebound, as was Anton Stralman’s second period tally. Vladdy Namestnikov’s third period goal wasn’t off a rebound, but it resulted from the three Lightning forwards crashing the net and converting after a goalmouth scramble.
There were some strange plays that led to goals in this game, too. On Namestnikov’s second period goal, Roberto Luongo slipped and wasn’t in position to stop the shot. The Panthers netted their first goal when Ben Bishop couldn’t find a puck at his pads and Jussi Jokinen poked it in. Florida tied the game at two in the second period when an innocent-looking puck somehow slid past two Lightning players at the offensive blue line, which created a breakaway for Nick Bjudstad. And while it wasn’t “strange”, the Panthers caught a break on Aaron Ekblad’s tying goal in the final minute – his shot nicked off Erik Condra’s stick and changed directions on its way into the net.
But that’s hockey. Sometimes teams benefit from bounces and both clubs got their breaks tonight.
One final point. In Thursday’s win over Calgary, the Lightning effectively closed out the Flames after taking a 2-1 lead late in the third. I know Ekblad ended up tying the game, but I thought the Lightning again did a good job of controlling play after Namenstikov had made it 4-3 with 10:04 left. The Panthers didn’t generate many good looks down the stretch, other than a Grade-A chance for Brandon Pirri on which Bishop made a spectacular pad save. Before Ryan Callahan accidentally batted the puck out of play, which led that late Florida power play, the Lightning were defending well when the Panthers had the extra attacker. But that call is an automatic one – and credit the Panthers for winning the ensuing faceoff that led to Ekblad’s goal.
So this one stings. But the sting shouldn’t deter the Lightning in their attempt to build towards more consistent play. Despite the outcome – and the way the game ended – I believe the Lightning took another step in the right direction tonight.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Ekblad’s tying goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Vladdy Namestnikov – Lightning. Two goals.
2.Nick Bjudstad – Panthers. Goal.
3.Anton Stralman – Lightning. Goal.