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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.

NHL Eastern Conference Final Game Night: 9-15-20 Islanders v Lightning

Lightning fan on chance to eliminate the Islanders.

NYI-2
TB-1 (2OT)

Tampa Bay Leads the Series 3-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 24 shots for the loss. Made one immense stop on a short Barzal breakaway in the first OT. Deserved more goal support than he got tonight.

First Period
15:41 NYI Pulock (2), (Leddy, Barzal)(PP)

Second Period
4:00 TB Hedman (8), (Coleman, Schenn)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Overtime
NO SCORING

Second Overtime
12:30 NYI Eberle (5), (Lee)

Victor Hedman was the game's third star.

For the second time in this series, a brain cramp by a veteran defenseman prolongs the series. Tonight it was Shattenkirk fanning on a point shot resulting in the Islanders' winning 2-on-1 in Double Overtime. That's really frustrating in a game where the Lightning dominated possession and had the lion's share of the scoring chances to lose it on a play like that. The Lightning held the Islanders to 16 shots in regulation. Expected goals were dominated by the Lightning, especially in the two Overtimes. It's a sick feeling knowing Dallas is just sitting back as the beneficiaries of the extra effort these two teams are expending. Hopefully the Lightning get Brayden Point back healthy for Game Six to close this one out because fatigue would be one of those things that could tilt a potential SCF series that the Lightning should be favored in over to the Stars.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Eastern Conference Final Game Day: 9-13-20 Lightning v Islanders

Top line puts the Lightning on the brink of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

TB-4
NYI-1

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 27 shots for the win. Tough game for Vasilevskiy mentally because he had exactly squat to do for 30 minutes and then suddenly the game went into overdrive and he had to make several key situational saves.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
11:27 NYI Nelson (9), (Bailey)
11:42 TB Coleman (4), (Gourde, Vasilevskiy)
11:54 TB Palat (8), (Kucherov, Point)

Third Period
3:33 TB Point (9), (Palat, Kucherov)
17:36 TB Maroon (1), (Gourde, Paquette)(EN)

Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov were the game's three stars.

This game scarier than maybe it should've been, but ultimately it went to plan. The Lightning dominated the play for the first half an hour of hockey and probably deserved to have about a 2-0 lead but couldn't find the back of the net. Brock Nelson struck for the first goal and it felt for a second (and only a second) like the hockey gods were going to betray the Lightning, but two quick response goals from Coleman and Palat and the Lightning were on their way. The team's skill level really showed through with the long aerial pass from Gourde to Coleman for the breakaway and the sweet deke finish and then a pretty filthy three way passing play on Palat's goal. The top line had another pretty filthy passing play on the rush for the goal early in the Third Period and that was all the Lightning needed.

The Lightning were just the better team today both at even strength and in all situations. The shot totals show it. The possession stats show it. The xG fancy stats show it. The Islanders have thrown their best punches in these past three games and really I would argue the Lightning are a Ryan McDonagh hand grenade pass from ending this in a sweep. As it is, they'll try to finish this series off on Tuesday. Hopefully Brayden Point feels well enough to go again and some Lightning players who I thought looked a little bushed for parts of this game like Victor Hedman get some good rest. With Dallas being up 3-1 in the WCF it behooves the Lightning to end this Tuesday just in case Dallas does the same tomorrow.

The Lightning being 62% on draws doesn't stink. Great to see.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

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