Following the Lightning's win on Friday over Anaheim, Jon Cooper conceded that his team, despite gaining five out of six points through three games on this road trip, hadn't quite gotten back to the high level it had set prior to bye week and All-Star Break.
This victory over San Jose was much closer to that standard. And the Lightning did it while playing the second half of a back-to-back against a rested opponent.
They completely dominated the first period, outshooting the Sharks, 13-2. Shot attempts were 29-7 in favor of the Lightning. If not for San Jose goalie Aaron Dell, the Lightning would have built a big, multi-goal lead. But Dell stopped all 13 shots, keeping the game scoreless after one period.
The Sharks pushed back in the second and, with more offensive zone time, were able to put more pucks towards the Lightning net. They recorded 18 second period shots, including a handful of scoring chances. But Curtis McElhinney kept them off the board. At the other end, the Lightning finally solved Dell. Kevin Shattenkirk delivered a no-look cross-ice pass to Steven Stamkos, who drilled a one-timer into the top of the net at 4:04 of the second.
McElhinney posted 10 more saves in the third - his best was a left skate stop on a Timo Meier in-alone chance when the score was still 1-0. Even though the Lightning were not the fresher team, they dictated play for a good portion of the frame. Particularly in the final 10 minutes. Similar to how they controlled play in the first period, they produced long, sustained offensive zone shifts. Then, as the clock approached the final two minutes, Nikita Kucherov finished a backhander off the rush and extended the Lightning's lead. Ondrej Palat completed the scoring with an empty-netter.
It's true that the Sharks did generate some good looks, especially during their second period push. But as a whole, the Lightning defended well. They did it by playing for the majority of the game with the puck in the offensive zone and by limiting turnovers with strong puck management.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1. Curtis McElhinney - Lightning. Shutout win. 30 saves.
2. Steven Stamkos - Lightning. Goal and assist.
3. Aaron Dell - Sharks. 32 saves.