The big storyline heading into this game was the number of key players NOT in the lineup for these teams. So while the Lightning didn't have to face Connor McDavid, they themselves dressed a lineup that didn't include five of their regulars. This meant that the Lightning not only shuffled up their forward line combinations, they also ended up using defenseman Cameron Gaunce at left wing.
Perhaps the new combinations factored into how the game unfolded - it was a choppy performance for the Lightning, particularly in the final two periods. They struggled with puck management and ceded much of the possession to Edmonton during the final 40 minutes. But their work ethic never wavered and they battled hard in their own zone to disrupt potential scoring chances for the Oilers. And when Edmonton did generate Grade-A looks, Andrei Vasilevskiy provided his team with a handful of key saves.
The first period, however, followed a different narrative. The Lightning had the run of play. They peppered Mike Smith with a handful of dangerous shots. They hit two posts and had other close calls. Defensively, they didn't give the Oilers much - Edmonton's best look came directly off an offensive zone faceoff win. But due to Smith's play - and those narrow misses for the Lightning - the first period ended in a scoreless tie.
In the second, the Oilers were effective at breaking up Lightning outlet passes and that translated into more puck possession for the Oilers. But the Lightning still won the period, 2-1. Pat Maroon banked a puck in off Mike Smith to open the scoring. Then, after Caleb Jones finished an open chance from the slot (after his first attempt was blocked, but the puck came back to him in a prime scoring area), Yanni Gourde broke the tie with a shorthanded goal. The Oilers own the top ranked power play in the league and, even without McDavid, they are a dangerous group. They scored two power play goals on Tuesday in a win over Chicago - that was their first game following the McDavid injury. In this game, they received two power plays and both occurred in the second period. Gourde's tally came on the second of those opportunities and took place after the Oilers had applied some heavy pressure in the Lightning end. But after a Lightning clear, the Oilers turned the puck over as they attempted to re-enter the offensive zone. Gourde raced down the ice ahead of Oscar Klefbom and finished a shot over Smith's stick. What a week it's been for Gourde, who snapped his 35-game goal skid on Tuesday with the overtime winner in Pittsburgh and has now scored in back-to-back games.
In the third period, the Lightning's puck management issues continued. Much of the action took place in the Tampa Bay defensive zone. But despite their possession advantage, the Oilers came up empty on the scoreboard. Vasilevskiy made 13 saves in the frame, including a point-blank stop on Leon Draisaitl at the side of the net. That was the Oilers' best scoring chance of the game and Vasilevskiy's save preserved the 2-1 lead. Cedric Paquette closed the scoring with an empty-netter to seal the Lightning's ninth straight win. It was also their 10th consecutive home victory, tying the franchise record.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 29 saves.
- Mike Smith - Oilers. 34 saves.
- Yanni Gourde - Lightning. Shorthanded GWG.