Tampa Bay Lightning

Content regarding the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-23-20 Lightning v Stars

Tampa Bay takes control of the series with a decisive G3 win.

TB-5
DAL-2

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 2-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the victory. Had to make a lot of big saves in the First Period while the team struggled with its puck management and then didn't have to do a lot the rest of the way. Sure would love the big cat to smell the trophy and just hulk up in these upcoming back to back games.

First Period
5:33 TB Kucherov (7), (unassisted)
6:58 TB Stamkos (1), (Hedman, Rutta)
11:19 DAL Dickinson (2), (Hintz)(SH)

Second Period
0:54 TB Hedman (10), (Cirelli, Palat)(PP)
12:02 TB Point (11), (Kucherov, Hedman)
18:55 TB Palat (10), (Point, Shattenkirk)

Third Period
6:49 DAL Heiskanen (6), (Pavelski, Cogliano)

Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

Really a tale of two games. The Lightning, despite leading 2-1 after the First Period, really played a really scary bad opening frame where they struggled with puck management and gave Dallas way too many chances. I don't know if that's a wrinkle that Bowness threw in for this game that the Lightning had to respond to or simply the fact Dallas' skating takes some adjusting to, but it was bad. Lots of mishandles of the puck and throwing it into dangerous areas of the rink and feeding the Stars forecheck. And that's maybe the lesson of the night: if you manage the puck Dallas is somewhat toothless offensively. They live off turning mistakes into counters with their speed. Not entirely different than the Isles in some respects except they're much faster and don't have a dynamic player like Barzal who can really take over a rush.

To their credit, I think the coaching staff has been dynamite at making adjustments at the First Intermission in these playoffs and the middle frame of this game was some of the best hockey the Lightning have played in this postseason. It helped that the Lightning started it with a couple of power plays and dug out a goal and got some momentum, but it was the play at 5v5 that was special. The Lightning back pressure from the forwards was just suffocating and Dallas kept turning it over and feeding the Lightning forecheck over and over again. And, unlike Dallas, the Lightning have a lot of skill players who know how to capitalize on opportunities. Coming into this series I felt that, other than the Lightning's wild card advantages (Hedman and Vasilveskiy) the quality of their finishers and ability to put up goals is tough for a team like Dallas to keep up with. The Lightning top line, in particular, has been too much for Dallas to handle thus far.

It was great to see Steven Stamkos get into this series and uplift the team with a goal. I doubt we see him again in these playoffs after re-injuring himself, but he owed it to himself and his teammates to give it a go and with a big goal in this game he potentially got his name on the Cup the honest way.

Things potentially escalate quickly from here with G4 and G5 back to back on Friday and Saturday. The Lightning have a lot of momentum now and after chasing Khudobin I thought the Stars' push in the Third Period looked anemic. I don't want to say they look defeated and I fully expect their Spartan 300 effort in G4, but the seed of doubt got planted in their minds tonight in a way the Lightning failed to do when they had Dallas on the ropes in G2. So now, it's a matter of sticking to the lessons learned through the first three games. Stay out of the box. Don't feed Dallas' forecheck and get on their own, and they'll remain in the driver's seat in this series.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-21-20 Stars v Lightning

Lightning strike early, hang on late to even series.

DAL-2
TB-3

Series Tied 1-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the victory. Arguably he won the game for the Lightning late in the Second Period when he allowed them to go into the intermission up 3-1 despite a flurry of scoring chances against on the penalty kill. He keeps showing flashes. I keep waiting for him to put it all together on one of those unconsciously ridiculous good streaks.

First Period
11:23 TB Point (10), (Kucherov, Hedman)(PP)
14:22 TB Palat (9), (Kucherov, Hedman)(PP)
15:16 TB Shattenkirk (2), (Coleman, Cirelli)

Second Period
14:43 DAL Pavelski (10), (Klingberg, Radulov)(PP)

Third Period
5:27 DAL Janmark (1), (Klingberg, Radulov)

Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and second stars.

Way better energy from the Lightning tonight having shaken off their Islanders series hangover late in Game One, and between their improved intensity level and some minor strategic tweaks to counter what Bowness sprung on the Lightning in Game One the team got off to a great start drawing some penalties they cashed in on and generally owning the puck at 5v5 for the first 34 minutes of play. Cedric Paquette rang a post that could've made it 4-0 and ended the night early, but the Lightning saw that and a few other great chances to really psychologically wound the Stars go by the boards before getting themselves in penalty trouble late in the Second Period and allowing the Stars to swing the momentum a bit. The Third Period was hardly mistake-free, but to the Lightning's credit they did play a pretty 50/50 final 20 to eventually take the W and even the series.

Still lots of work to do against a spirited Dallas team that still has a lot of belief, but there's some seeds in the last four periods that you can see possibly growing into a winning formula for the Lightning. At 5v5, they're unlocking Dallas offensively in a way the Stars aren't used to. In particular, they had no answer for Kucherov and his line tonight, but really all the top three lines had their moments. Special teams remains one colossal adventure in both phases, PP and PK, but tonight they got a lot better and quicker puck movement from their top-PP unit and that makes all the difference. Without Stamkos, they can't have the plodding pace. They've got to zip it around fast if they want to make it work. And they need to stay out of the box. Their PK numbers may not be that atrocious, but they don't pass the eye test and Dallas got 12 SOG's on the PP tonight and only 17 at even strength. Stay out of the box.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Stanley Cup Final Game Night: 9-19-20 Stars v Lightning

Lightning succumb to a hangover in Game One.

DAL-4
TB-1

Dallas Leads the Series 1-0

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 19 shots for the loss. One of those you'd like to see him get, although I don't think it's the howler it's been made out to be because it was a rebound off a shot block and he was partially screened by the shot blocker. He played excellent for a long stretch in the Second Period when the team was coming unglued at the seams and nearly kept them in competitive position. Can he be better? Yes. Was the the reason they lost tonight? No.

First Period
5:40 DAL Hanley (1), (Hintz)
12:32 TB Gourde (6), (Coleman, Goodrow)

Second Period
12:30 DAL Oleksiak (5), (Radulov, Heiskanen)
19:32 DAL Kiviranta (5), (Lindell, Klingberg)

Third Period
18:42 DAL Dickinson (1), (Comeau, Janmark )(EN)

I said after Game Six of the ECF the Lightning would have to figure out how to manufacture a win or two early in this series because I expected a hangover from the Islanders series. The team looked dead on its feet in Game Six against New York and they carried that fatigue through much of the first 40 minutes of tonight's contest. They might've still had themselves in a position to steal this one but for a perplexing set of decisions by Brayden Point to eat the puck rather than move it in the corner and Zach Bogosian to stop playing and chase Point's checker leading to Dallas' first goal and there's Dallas' third goal which came off a bit of puck luck with a blocked shot ricocheting right back to the shooter late in the Second Period. As it was, the Lightning just didn't look themselves through two period's tonight, which was disappointing albeit not unexpected. Rick Bowness had his team ready to defend what the Lightning like to do in the neutral zone in the First Period, which greatly aided the team's tepid start, and then they got in penalty trouble in the Second Period which really doomed any chance to regain momentum in the middle third of the game.

The silver lining is that the Lightning finally found their form in the Third Period, granted through a hellacious dose of score effects, and ended up outshooting Dallas 22-1 in the final frame as the Stars went into the equivalent of a NFL prevent defense. As bad as they played through 40 minutes the Lightning were surprisingly close in expected goals after two periods and by the end of the Third Period Money Puck's "deserve to win-o'meter" spun nearly 3:1 the Lightning's way. In other words, this began to look and feel a lot like the Game One loss in the Boston series where the Lightning found their form in a failed comeback and eventually went on to win four straight to send Boston to the golf course. So, I suspect we're going to see the real Lightning team the rest of this series and the Islanders series hangover will be gone the rest of the way. That's the good news. I think the Lightning will start showing themselves to be the superior 5v5 team from here on out. The bad news is that the Lightning power play and penalty kill continues to look wildly inconsistent and generally a liability against their opponents. They had multiple chances in the Third Period to claw to within a goal and really put the flop sweat on Bowness' brow, but lacked the right combination of puck movement to unlock Khudobin. That and fatigue remain my biggest concerns in this series, even in spite of the Game One loss.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Eastern Conference Final Game Night: 9-17-20 Lightning v Islanders

Lightning survive and advance to the Stanley Cup Final in another marathon squeaker.

TB-2
NYI-1 (OT)

Tampa Bay Wins the Series 4-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory. His one goal allowed was a bit of a horrible overplay on the Toews wraparound goal and I had a horrible feeling in my gut the adage about soft goals being the margin might come true again tonight. He redeemed himself several times tonight, none more prominent than a shorthanded breakaway by Brock Nelson after he picked Tyler Johnson's pocket. (Naturally, NBCSN proceeded to spend the next minute criticizing his technique on the breakaway stop... because NBCSN).

First Period
4:15 NYI Toews (2), (Lee, Barzal)
6:26 TB Hedman (9), (Cernak, Kucherov)

Second Period
NO SCORING

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
13:18 TB Cirelli (3), (Goodrow, Killorn)

Anthony Cirelli and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and third stars.

Tonight's script paralleled the Game Five script, but the actors played their roles differently. The Lightning were dominant again through the first thirty minutes of regulation, but again surrendered the opening goal and again had to claw back to even. From there, things got a little pear shaped. The Islanders started a Spartan 300 push midway through the Second Period and carried the balance of play for huge swaths of the remainder of that period and the Third Period. Put simply, the Lightning looked like a team that had hit the wall from an energy standpoint and that they were running on fumes. Their puck management started to slide a little and they started to routinely find themselves second to loose pucks for the first time in this series. To their immense credit, after getting the game into Overtime, they found their reserve fuel tank and played the game pretty evenly up until a gloriously little simple centering feed in tight by Barclay Goodrow to Anthony Cirelli who banked the puck in off the far post and off the back of Varlamov's pad to clinch the Lightning's third Eastern Conference Championship.

Before moving on to the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final, a little reflection on some of the team's performances to this point. Nikita Kucherov tonight tied Brad Richards' Lightning record for points in a playoff season with 26. Richards was a deadly right point option for the Lightning in the '04 playoffs, but with the Lightning power play being pretty subpar this postseason, Kucherov's had to make hay more at 5v5. His linemates Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat have also cloaked themselves in glory as have the Goodrow/Gourde/Coleman line which have been by far and away the Lightning's two most reliable lines. But, with all due respect to the forwards, the engine of this Lightning playoff run has been Victor Hedman and this deep, deep Lightning defensive corps. Victor Hedman is closing in on an almost unattainable NHL postseason goals record for defensemen set by Paul Coffey in the Edmonton Oilers' glory years. Hedman is so good he's fueled a renaissance for the career of Zach Bogosian while the Lightning roll seven deep in defensemen who have been excellent in supporting the play offensively and really giving the Lightning their possession advantage all postseason. And then there's Andrei Vasilevskiy. Here's the thing: Vasilevskiy's sitting on a .930+ save percentage and has made more than his fair share of big situational saves in these playoffs. And, yet, we know the Big Cat has another gear. He has yet to record a shutout in this playoff campaign and he has yet to post one of those long, crazy 100+ minutes hockey where he just puts the deflector shields up over the net and leaves them up. With the Lightning starting to feel the weight of an NHL record number of overtime minutes they've played this season, the Lightning need their hole cards like Hedman to be their hole cards. And, perhaps, their biggest hole card of all is their young netminder who perpetually looks on the cusp of legendary greatness. Is now the time?

On paper, the Lightning should be the favorites against a Bishop-less Stars team. And yet, the Stars come into this series with a rest and energy advantage and the Lightning are really going to have to figure out how to manufacture a couple of early wins in this series as they try to work off their hangover from this Islanders series. Will Steven Stamkos make his postseason debut? Gosh I hope so. The Lightning need all the bodies they can get right now and the power play has been in desperate need of Stamkos' abilities for some time. It would also give Cooper a backstop in case lingering injuries to Brayden Point and now Anthony Cirelli, who took a big knock tonight, start to weigh on them in the Final. The biggest thing for the Lightning, though, is to unlock Anton Khudobin and remind him... dude, you're Anton Khudobin. He has a great defensive team playing in front of him, but that team is feeding right now off of Khudobin riding a hot streak. If the Lightning can knock him around early in this series and plant a little seed of doubt in the young Stars' minds, all the better. The fancy stats tell a story that the Lightning should win this series, but they told a similar tale to the Vegas Knights, too. So, rest up Lightning, because your marathon has just begun in the quest to validate the fantastic team that has been built in Tampa Bay over the last decade.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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