While bad puck-luck certainly wasn’t the only reason why the Lightning had lost their previous two games, it was a factor. Opposition shots were deflecting off sticks and into the Lightning net. Lightning clearing attempts were hitting the glass and staying in the d-zone. Ricocheting pucks were finding opposition players open in front of the net. At the other end, Lightning players weren’t converting open net chances. Dangerous chances weren’t materializing because pucks were skipping off sticks at the most inopportune moments.
Tonight, that puck-luck turned around, as the Bolts netted both their goals off fortunate bounces. As was the case in their two recent losses, though, those bounces weren’t the only component in the Lightning’s victory.
For most of this game, the Lightning defended very well. The exceptions were during two consecutive Carolina power plays in the first period, when the Hurricanes generated several dangerous scoring chances, a flurry of Carolina activity after the Hurricanes tied the score with eight minutes left in the third and a final Carolina power play with four minutes left. It was during those stretches when goaltender Evgeni Nabokov made a number of difficult saves.
Outside of those moments, the Lightning controlled play. I know the shot totals don’t reflect that (the Bolts were outshot, 30-27), but the Lightning forced Carolina netminder Cam Ward to make a plethora of remarkable stops. He made point blank saves, deflection stops and rebound saves. The best of the bunch came off a rebound during a Lightning two-on-one rush in the second period, when he denied Valtteri Filppula what seemed to be a certain goal.
Due to Ward’s performance, both early in the game when the Bolts put five quick shots on him, and throughout the Lightning’s dominant second period, the game was scoreless into the third. (Steven Stamkos also hit two posts in that second period, extending, at least momentarily, some of the Lightning’s unfortunate puck-luck). But in the third, the Lightning’s fortunes changed. During a power play, Anton Stralman dumped the puck into the Carolina zone. Ward exited the crease, expecting the puck to continue around the boards and slide behind the net. Instead, the puck hit the glass and careened in front (narrowing missing hitting the side of the net), where Nikita Kucherov sticked it into an open cage. Then, in the final minute of regulation, with the puck in the Carolina end, Alex Killorn slid the puck nicely to Kucherov at the left circle, which created an odd-man look down low. He tried to work a pass across to Tyler Johnson at the right circle. Instead, it hit off Ron Hainsey’s skate and deflected into the net.
So the Lightning got a couple of breaks. (They still endured another goal against off one of their own players, when Justin Faulk’s shot deflected in off Victor Hedman). But they played well enough to win anyway. If not for Ward’s spectacular netminding, the Bolts would have been up by several goals before the third. And on the winning goal, had the puck not hit Hainsey’s skate, Johnson probably would have scored anyway.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Kucherov’s GWG in the final minute of regulation.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Evgeni Nabokov – Lightning. 29 saves.
2.Cam Ward – Hurricanes. 25 saves.
3.Nikita Kucherov – Lightning. Two goals.