Gritty Lightning take Florida’s best punch and steal Game One.
Tampa Bay Leads the Series 1-0
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed four goals on 39 shots for the victory. This wasn’t his best performance, but he made enough situational saves to keep the team in the game and allow them to pull it out for him.
7:42 TB Coleman (1), (Gourde, McDonagh)(SH)
9:41 FLA Barkov (1), (Huberdeau, Yandle)(PP)
16:31 FLA Verhaeghe (1), (Barkov, Yandle)
4:58 TB Kucherov (1), (Hedman, Stamkos)(PP)
14:51 TB Kucherov (2), (Hedman)(PP)
1:27 FLA Huberdeau (1), (Bennett, Tippett)
4:09 FLA Tippett, (Huberdeau, Bennett)
13:00 TB Point (1), (Kucherov, Hedman)(PP)
18:46 TB Point (2), (McDonagh)
Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov were the game’s first and third stars.
It’s pretty clear Florida approached this game with the focus and intensity of their own personal Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final. They came out and were more physical than I’ve ever seen them and more intense than I’ve ever seen them, and they used that to stake themselves to a 2-1 First Period lead. Even despite that, though, the Lightning seemed to me to be playing well at 5v5, outside of how they were handling the Barkov line. I think the Lightning realized that too: if they stay out of the box they’re the better team at 5’s and if they get the puck down low in the offensive zone and force Florida’s defensemen to work they can draw penalties. And when the power plays came in the Second Period, the whole league wailed “cap circumvention” in unison when it became clear Nikita Kucherov’s reinsertion into the lineup gives the Lightning back it’s unbelievable power play advantage. The puck movement and the spacing was just amazing. Once Stamkos recalibrates his shot, the Panthers better stay out of the box because that power play looked amazing tonight.
By the end of the Second Period, the Lightning put themselves in the driver’s seat with a 3-2 lead and looked to have the game by the throat. Then Bad Mikhail Sergachev showed up. I haven’t seen him all regular season, but I always feared he’d return. Throughout his career, you knew if you waited long enough in a season eventually Bad Mikhail Sergachev would start making some really bad turnovers and decisions with the puck, and he certainly did that in the Third Period gifting Huberdeau the tying breakaway goal opportunity. Jan Rutta followed up by turning over a puck within 10 feet of his own blueline on Tippett’s goal, and it looked like maybe the Lightning had choked their opportunity to steal Game One away. But the Lightning showed the heart of a champion. They strung together a couple of good shifts at 5v5 and drew a penalty and tied the game up quickly. They followed up by staying on their game at 5v5 and eventually sprung Point on his breakaway for the GWG, which featured as world class a finish you’re ever going to witness.
So where does this leave the series? The Lightning will go back to the tape and realize pretty quickly what they need to do to win this series. They’ve got to stay out of the box and work the puck down low on Florida’s D at 5v5 to create chances and draw penalties for this renewed power play. They’ve also got to continue with the coaching adjustment it seems they made for this game, which is to not pound point shots blindly at Florida’s net. Florida’s used Tampa Bay’s preference for point shots to spring their transition counter game to frightening effect all season. The Lightning, for the most part, resisted the temptation to just pound the puck from the point into that mass of bodies in front tonight. It’s counterntuitive for a possession team like the Lightning, but it’s critical for the Lightning to get past Florida with their style. Lastly, much as the Lightning have had to find ways to bend but not break against the Bergeron line in recent seasons in the playoffs against Boston, they’ve got to do a better job on the Barkov line than they did tonight. First and foremost: don’t gift them turnovers. That’s half the battle for nullifying their strength.
Game Two the Lightning are playing with house money. They’ve already wiped away Florida’s regular season series win and scrambled all the assumptions about this series going into it. Florida’s going to push really hard to win Game Two knowing if they fall behind 0-2 at home this could be a short series. Hence, the veteran Lightning really need to try to use the Panthers’ aggression against them to frustrate them, pull them out of position, and keep earning more power play opportunities. If they do that, Florida’s in big, big trouble.
Ross Colton had 3 hits in 10:41. He didn’t miss by much on an early First Period chance that could’ve really changed the complexion of the game early. Other than that, he played a pretty robust physical game.