The Lightning weren’t happy with their play in Game One and knew they’d need to be better in Game Two if they hoped to earn a split before the series shifts to Amalie Arena. They were better in Game Two and did earn a split. But the Lightning still had some hiccups in this game, which was a lot closer than the final score might indicate.
Having written that, the Lightning received some monster performances tonight. Tyler Johnson led the way offensively with a hat trick, while his Triplets linemates – Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov – also were excellent. Alex Killorn netted two goals and added an assist – he played a strong game on his line with Valtteri Filppula and Steven Stamkos. Victor Hedman was tremendous, contributing a key assist and saving a goal with a block in the second. Though he didn’t earn a point, Ryan Callahan played a hard game and his net-front presence helped the Lightning tally two of their goals. And Ben Bishop was sensational in making 35 saves, including a number of crucial saves when the outcome was still in doubt.
The Lightning’s problems in this game occurred primarily in the second half of the game. For the first 30 minutes, though, the Lightning (mostly) carried play. It was clear from the opening shift that the Lightning brought more intensity than they did in Game One. During those first 30 minutes. the Lightning’s forecheck was quick to force turnovers in the Rangers d-zone and when the teams were skating five-on-five, the Lightning had more of the puck possession. But much of the opening 10 minutes wasn’t played five-on-five. The Lightning got into early penalty trouble, committing three infractions in the first 8:15. That included two penalties 53 seconds apart. Bishop made two saves during the ensuing five-on-three to keep the game scoreless. Then, with time winding down on the two-man advantage, Marty St. Louis fumbled the puck and Killorn sent Johnson away on a shorthanded breakaway. Johnson put in his own rebound to give the Bolts their first lead in the series. Chris Kreider tied the score on the Rangers’ third power play chance, but just over a minute later, Kreider took a penalty. The teams traded additional penalties during Kreider’s infraction, so the Lightning ended up with a four-on-three power play. Stamkos had a shot from the high slot blocked, but corralled the rebound and maneuvered it to Johnson at the bottom of the left circle. Johnson faked a pass across to Palat and roofed a shot over Henrik Lundqvist’s glove to make it 2-1.
The Lightning started the second period continuing to play a full 200-foot game. They executed breakouts well. They worked pucks deep into the Rangers end. And when New York tried to counter, the Lightning gapped up in the neutral zone and effectively disrupted those rushes. They eventually added to their lead at 8:17 with Johnson’s hat trick goal. Marc Staal fell down at the offensive blue line, which allowed Kucherov and Palat to counter on a two-on-one. Palat put a left circle shot off the post, but Kucherov and Johnson crashed the net and Johnson forced home the rebound.
After that goal, however, the momentum of the game swung. It’s true that the Rangers made a push. But the Lightning also seemed to back off, not maintaining the crisp execution they had shown earlier in the game. The Rangers began having long shifts in the offensive zone and applied constant pressure. When the Lightning took a penalty in the d-zone at 13:42, the Rangers cashed in with another power play goal. Derek Stepan banked the puck into the Lightning net off Braydon Coburn at 14:17. Having cut the deficit to 3-2, the Rangers continued to buzz for most of the rest of the period. They almost tied the score when Bishop got caught out of the net, but Hedman made the aforementioned block on James Sheppard. It was a dominating stretch for the Rangers, but the Bolts survived it and maintained their lead. The Lightning did push back in the final minute of the frame, getting a two-on-one for Johnson and Nikita Nesterov and moments later, a dangerous Stamkos shot from the right circle.
In the third, the Lightning would eventually extend their lead. They were helped by three New York penalties, including one on Stepan in the opening 1:02. But before they made it 4-2, they needed two big saves from Bishop on shorthanded bids for Rick Nash and Jesper Fast. Seven seconds after Stepan’s penalty expired, Hedman faked a shot from the left circle and wired a cross-ice pass to Killorn, who finished into an open side of the net. The Rangers continued to press – and racked up 15 third period shots – but the Lightning managed the rest of the game pretty well. When they had a chance to get pucks deep, they did. If they had an opportunity to hold onto pucks in the offensive zone and milk the clock, they did. And they did a reasonably good job of keeping to the perimeter many of those third period New York shots. Before it was over, Stamkos and Killorn had added two more power play goals, setting the final at 6-2.
As detailed, though, it was closer than that. The Rangers had several chances to tie the game after the Stepan tally had cut the Lightning lead to 3-2. That was when Bishop was at his best – and he received the aforementioned block from Hedman. During that time, the Lightning didn’t manage the puck as well as they had done earlier in the game. But they survived that New York surge with their lead intact – and then they broke the game open in the third.
So it may not have been a smooth ride for the whole 60 minutes. But the Lightning showed how dangerous they can be when they are executing well, which they did for most of the opening 30 minutes when they built their lead. Still, as Victor Hedman told us during our postgame interview on Lightning Radio, he feels that the Lightning have more to give. They’ll aim to be even better in Game Three on Wednesday.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Bishop’s saves on Nash and Fast during early third period Lightning power play.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Tyler Johnson – Lightning. Hat Trick. GWG. PPG, SHG, Even Strength Goal. First playoff hat trick in Lightning franchise history.
2.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 35 saves.
3.Alex Killorn – Lightning. Two goals and