For the first 43 seconds of Thursday night’s Stanley Cup Final rematch with the Chicago Blackhawks, it looked bleak for the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the remaining 59 minutes and 17 seconds, the Lightning put together their best defensive effort of the season and now find themselves within striking distance of first place in the Atlantic Division.
Nikita Kucherov’s power play goal with 3:21 remaining in the second period held up as the game-winner, and the Lightning held the Blackhawks to a season-low 18 shots on goal in a 2-1 victory at Amalie Arena, snapping Chicago’s franchise-record 12-game winning streak and extending Tampa Bay’s winning streak to a season-high seven games. The Lightning (26-17-4) jumped past the idle Detroit Red Wings for second place in their division with 56 points, just one point behind the first-place Florida Panthers. Anton Stralman picked up the other goal, as the Lightning fired 33 shots towards Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. Bolts head coach Jon Cooper talked about the atmosphere and how it felt a lot like last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
“It was fun to be in the building tonight. It obviously brought back memories of last year, another 2-1 game,” said Cooper. “But they’re a really good team and we had to play extremely well to beat them.”
It was a rocky start to this game for the Lightning, as the Blackhawks bulldozed their way to a 1-0 lead just 43 seconds into the contest when Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov found themselves on a 2-on-2 rush. Kane drew both Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman his way and found Anisimov in front with a backhand pass. Anisimov skated to his right in front of the crease and then beat a sprawling Ben Bishop with a backhander for his 17th goal of the season. After that, the Bolts settled down, and with the exception of a few moments where they were hemmed into the their own end, carried play for most of the period. Tampa Bay would get the equalizer when Hedman’s shot from the point was deflected by Stralman into the net, making the score 1-1 with 12:46 left. Stralman’s sixth goal of the season was assisted by Hedman and Valtteri Filppula. The line of JT Brown, Filppula, and Ryan Callahan combined for five shots in the first period, and nearly gave the Bolts the lead when Callahan had a shot stopped by Crawford, leading to a rebound in front that fluttered to Brown. Brown nearly swatted it past a sprawling Crawford, but another save was made, and after a video review, there wasn’t enough conclusive video evidence to call it a goal. Filppula’s line held the line of Marian Hossa-Jonathan Toews-Andrew Shaw to just two shots on goal for the entire evening. The Lightning had a couple of late chances, one by Jonathan Marchessault from the slot and another from the point by Hedman on the only power play of the period. However, Crawford was up to the task, stopping both shots, as the Bolts carried a 13-4 edge in shots into the first intermission.
The Lightning continued to hold the Blackhawks’ chances to a minimum in the second period. A power play for Chicago after a hooking penalty on Ondrej Palat led to just one shot on goal, a blast from the point that was turned aside by Bishop. Immediately after the power play ended, a turnover in the neutral zone led to the Blackhawks getting a 2-on-1. However, Andrej Sustr, whose game continues to grow and improve, made an impressive stick check to break up the odd-man rush and keep the game tied. Later in the period, an outstanding shift by the line of Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn kept the puck in the Hawks’ zone for an extended length of time, eventually resulting in a high-sticking penalty on Kane at the 12:44 mark that put the Lightning on the power play. While there was plenty of puck movement, there was little to no traffic in front of Crawford and only a couple of shots on net. Immediately after Kane’s penalty was over, he ended up back in the sin bin when he touched the puck while still having one skate in the penalty box, drawing an interference penalty and putting the Bolts back on the power play with 5:13 remaining in the period. This time, Tampa Bay made no mistake, as Kucherov sniped a laser beam of a wrist shot from the right circle past Crawford with 3:21 left on the clock to put the Lightning up 2-1. Hedman and Killorn earned the assists on Kucherov’s 20th goal of the season, which ties him with Steven Stamkos for the top spot on the team in that department. The goal also extended Kucherov’s point streak to seven games, as the Bolts took the lead into the intermission while holding a 23-9 advantage in shots on goal.
Just four seconds after the start of the third period, Filppula was called for a faceoff violation, putting the Blackhawks on another power play, but they were unable to put a single shot on net. Palat nearly gave the Lightning a two-goal edge, taking a pass in front of the Chicago net all alone. Unfortunately for the Lightning, Crawford continued his sensational play, sliding over to make a huge save and keeping it a one-goal game. That play was the highlight of a dominant shift by the Palat-Stamkos-Vlad Namestnikov line. The Lightning’s penalty killers came up big again later in the period when Brian Boyle had a key block during a Chicago power play that preserved the lead. Tampa Bay would get another man-advantage of their own, and kept the pressure on the Blackhawks, including a chance by Kucherov in which he whiffed on an attempted one-timer from the right circle. Bishop made a late glove save on Artemi Panarin that brought the Lighting fans in attendance to their feet, propelling Tampa Bay to a victory and handing Chicago their first loss since December 27th. After the game, Callahan talked about the challenge of going against Jonathan Toews’ line and rising to that challenge.
“I think any time you get a match-up like that, it’s a big challenge,” said Callahan. “No question, one of the best lines in the league, so going into that game, you’re excited about it and you try to rise to that challenge. I think Fil, Brownie, and myself, we did our best we could against them. They got some chances, they’re going to, but overall it was a good game.”
The Lightning travel down to Sunrise on Saturday night for a 7 pm contest against the Florida Panthers. The Panthers host Chicago on Friday night before the Lightning come into town, so depending on the outcome of that game, Saturday’s contest could potentially have the added attraction of having first place on the line.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Victor Hedman – Picked up assists on both goals, tied for the team-lead with four shots on goal, and led the Lightning in ice time at 21:29. Was a force at both ends of the rink, helping the Lightning keep the puck in the Chicago end for long stretches of time.
2nd Star: Ryan Callahan – You won’t find him on the score sheet tonight, but tied for the team-lead with four shots on goal, had a few really good scoring chances, and did an excellent job of keeping Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and his line in check, holding them to combined two shots on goal.
3rd Star: Corey Crawford – The Blackhawks’ netminder made 31 saves, many of the spectacular variety, allowing his team to stay in the game despite being outshot by a wide margin. Without Crawford, Tampa Bay probably wins this game 5-1.
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