The Tampa Bay Lightning controlled the Calgary Flames in route to an 4-1 win Thursday night. The Bolts played very well in all facets of the game, including limiting the Flames to 13 shots on goal through two periods. Thursday also marked the return of Nikita Kucherov who played in his first game since October 16th. He would tally two assist and as usually had a tremendous effect on the game.
The Flames and Covid
Although the Lightning earned this win, the effect that COVID-19 has had on the Flames has been tremendous. 6 out of their last 8 game dating back to December 16th have been postponed. Calgary has only played two games since the league returned from the break as opposed to the Lightning’s five. Not to mention both of those games were against subpar teams in Chicago and Seattle. It is very fair to say the Lightning are the best team the Flames have played in the last month. So with that in mind, take this win with a grain of salt. Calgary is a very good hockey team that is just rusty. The Flames are tied with Vegas for the best point percentage in the Western Conference and just 5 points behind them with 4 games at hand. Don’t be surprised to see the Flames be a much tougher out when the two teams meet again in March.
Despite not scoring any goals in the first period, the Lightning controlled play. They spent ample amounts of time in their offensive zone and got good looks at the net.Alex Killorn rang one off the post halfway through the period. Then on a powerplay, Kucherov was stoned on a one-timer. At the same time, they were able to keep Calgary to the outside and limit their shots on goal. Calgary had mustered 40-plus shots in their last two games and the Lightning held them to just 8 in the first period.
Lightning Controlled Second
For as well as the Lightning played in the first, they played just as well in the second. They continue to press Calgary and numerous grade-A opportunities that just wouldn’t go. This was most prevalent on a abbreviated major powerplay. Had the Flames goaltender not played as well as he did the score could’ve easily been 5-0. However, just over halfway through the period Tampa Bay would finally get on the board. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare came down the wing and faked a shot. This drew the Calgary defenders over leaving Corey Perry Open on the opposite side. With a beautiful feed from Bellemare Perry was able to send it past a sliding Vladar. Defensively the Lightning held the Flames to just 5 shots on goal in the second. Although Calgary did get some good looks on their powerplay, they did not generate much 5-on-5 and the Lightning would hold their 1-0 lead for the remainder of the period.
Return of the Kucherov
For the first time in in nearly 3 months the Lightning and its fans got to witness the force that is number 86. He was all over the ice and made an immediate impact. the powerplay looked as dangerous as it had been all year. He made plays as if he had never left the lineup Kucherov picked up two assist in his first game back. The first was gorgeous cross ice feed to Brayden Point to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Then the second was a shifty move to evade a defender behind the net which allowed him to find Ondrej Palat who gave the Bolts a three goal cushion. These all came because the threat of Kucherov was so great that he drew defenders to him. This combined with his incredible playmaking ability opened things up for other guys. For a team to commit defensively for a player that was out of the lineup for over two months, really solidifies how good of a player Kucherov is. He was a big reason the Lightning controlled the third period and with a goal another from Alex Killorn walked away with a 4-1 win.
The Lightning will take on the division rival the Boston Bruins Saturday night at Amalie. The Bruins have won 3 of their last 4 games since the break and sit in 4th place in the Atlantic Division. Following Saturday’s contest the Bolts will head north for a back-to-back set with Buffalo and New Jersey before returning home on the 13th.
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