The Calgary Flames not only are one of the top teams in the league, they also feature - like the Lightning - a dynamic offense. Those two octane offenses were on full display in the first meeting between the clubs, a wide-open affair in Calgary on December 20. That game contained lots of shots and scoring chances for both clubs - it ended up being a 5-4 shootout win for the Lightning.
This was a much different game, at least in terms of how the Lightning handled the dangerous Calgary attack. It was an outstanding defensive performance for the Bolts, who held the Flames to just 22 shots and only a handful of scoring chances. Their strong defensive play was an important element to the win. As was their balanced scoring. Yes, Nikita Kucherov (1-3-4) and Brayden Point (1-2-3) combined for seven points. But the Lightning also received tallies from four other players - three of the four forward lines contributed goals.
The Lightning's team defense was tight and in synch throughout the night. Their back-checking forwards frustrated the Calgary players when the Flames tried to move pucks up ice. They had a structured d-zone, so the Flames didn't get many open looks on Andrei Vasilevskiy. Their puck management was crisp, so they limited turnovers that might have fueled Calgary's offense. It's true that the Flames scored three goals. But one came on a five-on-three power play. Another (their only five-on-five tally) occurred just after a faceoff, a play in which the Flames benefitted from a weird bounce that sent the puck into the slot. Their final goal was a beautifully executed passing play between Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan during a late third period power play. That sequence showed how lethal the Flames can be offensively - and served as a reminder of how well the Lightning did to prevent those quality chances throughout the game.
The Lightning, on the other hand, generated a healthy number of Grade-A looks themselves. They netted two power play goals off nifty passing plays. As mentioned earlier, their four even-strength goals came from three different lines (two of the them occurred during partial line changes, so Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde scored their goals without their "usual" linemates). The Lightning did well to get pucks and traffic to the front of the net. Kucherov's goal was scored through a screen, Gourde's tally came on a deflection and Cirelli scored from the top of the crease. The Cirelli goal was an important one - it came just 57 seconds after the Flames had cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 midway through the second period.
The line of Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan and Danick Martel teamed up on the other Lightning goal. The sequence began with a Callahan steal at center ice just as the Flames scrambled to make a change on defense. The timing of those two events allowed the Lightning to counter on an odd-man rush and Martel set up Paquette for an open one-timer from the slot.
There were several individual milestones reached in this game. Point scored his 33rd goal, a new career-high. Kucherov's three assists gave him 63 on the season - also a personal best. Steven Stamkos reached the 30-goal mark for the sixth time in his career.
In the end, it was the combination of excellent team defense, depth scoring and a big night from Kucherov and Point that resulted in a decisive win over a talented opponent.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Nikita Kucherov - Lightning. Goal and three assists.
- Brayden Point - Lightning. Goal and two assists.
- Yanni Gourde - Lightning. Goal and assist.