The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings do not like each other. This is one of the most obvious early takeaways from opening round of the 2016 NHL playoffs. The ending to game three and the first win for the Red Wings in the series, made it clear that the feelings of animosity between the teams would continue into game four and likely for however many games the NHL would allow the two teams to play one another. Red Wings instigator Justin Abdelkader would again attempt to start a fight by a late hit late in a game that was already decided only this time he found a willing participant in Bolts big man Brian Boyle who was more than happy to fight him as the teams benches were ready to clear. Justin Abdelkader would be seen pleading with the ref that he did not want to fight, later citing a rarely enforced rule about tape on his hands as to the reason he did not take the Lightning up on their invitation to fight. Taunts, chicken arm flapping, and promises for future retribution were all exchanged as the teams left the ice for game 3 and ready for another rough and tumble encounter tonight in-game 4. Both teams knew that despite the anger for their opponent, the team that could channel their rage and emotion into smart hockey and goals would be the best type of revenge. Winning the fourth game of the series was the goal, embarrassing their rival would be a bonus.
The 1st period would start with the Tampa Bay Lightning intent on demonstrating better offensive puck possession in their first few shifts than they showed during all of game 3 combined. The early focus on good possessions paid off as now notorious instigator Justin Abdelkader would be called for an early holding penalty on Tampa defenseman Nikita Nesterov giving the Lightning their first power play of the game. The struggling Bolts power play suddenly sprang to life only 9 seconds into the man advantage, as forwards Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Johnson found their teammate Nikita Kucherov wide open in the slot allowing him to blast a shot past Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek for the early 1-0 lead in the 1st period. The early goal seemed to embolden the Lightning offensive, as Tampa forwards began attacking the Detroit zone from every possible angle. Petr Mrazek would make multiple big saves to keep the game at a one goal deficit midway through the 1st period. The Red Wings and Lightning would trade penalties late in the 1st period but both goalies Ben Bishop and Petr Mrazek would continue to slam the door on potential scoring chances keeping the game at 1-0 late in the 1st period. Tyler Johnson would send a puck over the glass, in an attempt to clear the puck with less than a minute to go in the period and get hit with a delay of game penalty, setting up the Red Wings with their second power play of the game. The Red Wings would be unable to generate any offense on the power play before the period came to a close with 1:15 left on their power play. The 1st period would end with the Tampa Bay Lightning leading 1-0 as well as holding the 14-10 shots on goal advantage.
The 2nd period would start with the Lightning playing a man down as Tyler Johnson would have to finish his stint in the penalty box from his earlier delay of game penalty in the 1st period. The Bolts penalty kill would continue their stellar play by killing off the 2nd Red Wings power play of the game. Once the teams returned to full strength the Lightning would resume their swarming attack and puck possession as they would dominate the Red Wings for multiple shifts, throwing several shots on Mrazek but were unable to get their second goal of the game. The pace seemed to be effecting the Red Wings as center Joakim Andersson would force Lightning center Cedric Paquette into dueling roughing penalties just to get a stoppage in play in an attempt to slow the game down. Neither team would be able to much during the four on four play keeping the game at a 1-0 Tampa Bay Lightning lead midway through the 2nd period. Midway through the 2nd period the Tampa attack would continue to pressure the Red Wing zone forcing Riley Sheahan into a slashing penalty setting up the Lightning for their 3rd power play of the game. The Lightning power play and Nikita Kucherov would again make the Detroit pay with a phenomenal display of tic-tack-toe passing to give Kucherov a shot into a wide open Detroit net for his second power play goal of the game, giving the Lightning a 2-0 lead midway through the 2nd period. The Red Wings finally were able to curb some of Tampa’s momentum when Cedric Paquette would be called for tripping Detroit’s Dylan Larkin setting up their 3rd power play of the game. The Red Wings would not score on the power play but an awkward bounce behind the Tampa net would allow Detroit center Luke Glendening to tip a pass to Darren Helm who put the puck past Ben Bishop before he could react for the goal. Helm’s goal would cut the Red Wings deficit to 2-1 late in the 2nd period. It appeared that the game would head to the 3rd period with the Lightning having a one goal lead until a late error by the Tampa defenseman misplaying the puck in their own end, allowed Riley Sheahan to find Gustav Nyquist for the equalizing goal with only 9.3 seconds left in the 2nd period. The horn would sound ending the 2nd period with the game tied 2-2, and the Detroit crowd and team suddenly re-energized for the 3rd period. The Tampa Bay Lightning would continue to lead 25-18 for shots on goal through two periods.
The 3rd period began with the Detroit Red Wings riding the momentum they built at the end of the 2nd period as they tied the game 2-2. The Red Wings would control the puck in the Tampa offensive zone threatening Ben Bishop with several close range shots but the Tampa defenders and goaltender would bend but not break keeping the game tied early in the 3rd period. Lightning center Valterri Filppula would help keep the game tied 2-2 midway through the 3rd period when he tipped away a Detroit scoring chance in front of an open Tampa net. The Lightning would continue to struggle to establish an offensive attack in the 3rd period only putting a single shot on goal through the first 10 minutes of the period. The Detroit pressure would force Tampa defenseman John Garrison to take a hooking penalty to prevent a scoring chance, giving the Red Wings their 4th power play opportunity of the game. Wings forward Dylan Larkin came as close as possible at giving Detroit the lead as he would put a beautiful backhand off of the right post, even confusing the goal light operator who thought it was in by putting the light on. The refs made the proper call as it never crossed the goal line, and the Tampa penalty kill would do their job killing off the rest of the Garrison penalty. The Lightning would finally see their first real scoring opportunity late in the 3rd period as Ondrej Palat would sneak behind the Detroit defense and force Jonathan Ericsson to take a cross checking penalty to prevent him from scoring. Tampa’s power play unit would not waste their 5th opportunity of the night as they would use a beautiful sequence of Nikita Kucherov passing to Jonathan Drouin who drew the defense to him believing he would shoot, only to hit Ondrej Palat with a perfect pass that he would put into the Detroit net for a 3-2 lead and their 3rd power play goal of the night late in the 3rd period. The Red Wings would be forced to pull Petr Mrazek for the extra attacker during the last two minutes of the game in an attempt to get the equalizer but Lightning goalie Ben Bishop made sure to not let Detroit get another last second goal as he would close the door on a 3-2 Bolts victory. The horn would sound with a stunned Joe Louis Arena as Red Wing fans filed out to the exits as the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrated their hard fought 3-2 win. The Lightning outshot the Red Wings 33-28 for the night. The Lightning now lead the Red Wings 3-1 in the series.
The Lightning will return home with a chance to close out the Detroit Red Wings for game 5 of the series on Tuesday April 21st at 7:00pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
- Jonathan Drouin– The embattled but talented youngster had the best game of his young career tonight, despite his line mate Nikita Kucherov scoring twice, Drouin facilitated assists on all three power play goals the Lightning scored tonight. His biggest assist came on the last goal of the game when he got the defense to gamble that the youngster would not pass up a shot on goal; but he showed tremendous selflessness and poise finding his teammate Ondrej Palat for the game winner. Drouin showed tonight why the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted him so high a few years ago and if his recent play is any indication he has taken major steps in a short amount of time in to becoming a real impact NHL player. Games like tonight will allow the fans, the orginization, and Drouin to forget about the past and look to the bright future.
- Nikita Kucherov – Kucherov has continued his offensive tear scoring two power play goals, giving him five for the playoffs through only four games. Kucherov also had an assist on the game winning power play goal. The Lightning have needed someone to step up in Steven Stamkos’s advantage and Nikita Kucherov has absolutely filled those shoes through four games.
- Ben Bishop– Bishop put together another stellar performance allowing only two goals on 28 shots. Bishop would need a little luck to finally go his way when a Dylan Larkin shot would go off the post late in the 3rd period, but his ability to put himself in the right position in the crease allows the Lightning to be in any game he anchors their net.
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