Heading into this game, the Lightning were expecting a contest similar to the one they just played against the New York Islanders - a tight-checking, defensive-oriented game in which time and space on the ice would be extremely limited.
While this game didn't start out that way, it did turn into a hard-fought, physical, defensive battle. Both goalies made some timely stops on opposition scoring chances, but as a whole, each team defended well without the puck and limited Grade-A chances.
That was more true later in the game, however, than in the first period. In the opening frame, there was a lot of room for both teams to skate and attack the offensive zone with speed. Neither team was able to convert on those rushes - there were some near misses on passes and "recovery" plays from the defending team. As a whole, the Lightning had the better of the play in the first. They outshot Columbus, 12-8, and owned a 20-13 advantage in shot attempts. They also scored the only goal of the frame, as Nikita Kucherov found some open ice near the Columbus net and redirected a Mikhail Sergachev pass into the net.
It was a different story in the second period. The Lightning struggled with puck management and ceded most of the possession time to Columbus. The period began with a sloppy Lightning power play, one in which they yielded a shorthanded chance to Riley Nash. On the shift after the penalty expired, the Blue Jackets tied it. Oliver Bjorkstand sped into the Lightning end and finished an in-alone backhander on Curtis McElhinney.
While the Lightning's puck management issues continued throughout the frame, they did battle hard in their own zone to prevent Columbus from racking up a high volume of scoring chances. Still, from a statistical standpoint, it was an ugly period for the Lightning. They got outshot, 15-6. Shot attempts were a lopsided 30-14 in favor of Columbus.
The Lightning did well to recover in the third. They owned more of the puck possession, so they weren't forced to spend as much time defending. But they had a difficult time translating offensive zone time into scoring chances. The Jackets boxed out well in front of their net. Elvis Merzlikins provided his team with 11 third period saves. At the other end, McElhinney made a couple of key saves on Bjorkstrand and Zach Werenski to keep the game tied. Boone Jenner also rang a shot off the crossbar. But the third period featured the sort of play that was expected throughout. It was physical, tight-checking, and well-defended.
In overtime, Brayden Point stole the puck from Werenski behind the Columbus net and set up a quick passing sequence that culminated in Kucherov's winning goal. Often in the three-on-three overtime, a player with the puck will skate out of the offensive zone back to neutral ice in order to keep possession. Werenski did that - and ended up going all the way from the offensive zone to behind his own net. On this occasion, that "possession" move backfired and resulted in the Lightning's overtime triumph.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Brian Engblom):
- Nikita Kucherov - Lightning. Two goals.
- Oliver Bjorkstrand - Blue Jackets. Goal.
- Victor Hedman - Lightning. Assist.