Having won eight of their previous nine games heading into the All-Star break, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew they needed a pair of points to stave off the Detroit Red Wings and keep place with the first-place Florida Panthers.
Thankfully for the Lightning, their power play came up big when it mattered most.
Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson each scored power play goals, JT Brown chipped in a goal, and Ben Bishop stopped 24 of 25 shots as the Lightning (28-18-4), beat the Red Wings (25-17-8) 3-1 at Amalie Arena in a nationally televised game on NBC Sports Network, giving them sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Division with their ninth win in their last 10 games. It was also Tampa Bay’s seventh consecutive home victory and the 100th of Bishop’s career in a Lightning uniform.
Both teams played an opening period that was eerily reminiscent of their first two meetings, with quality scoring chances at a premium. The Lightning didn’t spend much time in the Red Wings’ end, as they got hemmed into their own zone a few times and committed a few turnovers that led to opportunities for Detroit. Despite outshooting Tampa Bay 10-4 in the opening period, the Wings didn’t have many high-quality chances. The Lightning’s best chance for a goal came when Alex Killorn carried the puck into Detroit’s zone down the right wing and fed it to a trailing Andrej Sustr, whose one-timer was turned aside by Petr Mrazek, who finished with 20 saves on 23 shots for. The Lightning only had one shot on goal during a late power play, but had a chance that just skipped over Ryan Callahan’s stick in front of the net, as the team’s went into the intermission scoreless.
Both the action and the Lightning’s play picked up considerably in the second period, as they wasted little time taking a 1-0 lead. Braydon Coburn took the puck into the right wing corner and sent a saucer pass through the crease, where Brown was waiting to tip it in, scoring his 5th goal of the year at the 1:23 mark. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper talked about how his team had adjusted its game at this point and how important it was to get the lead.
“The first period, I was surprised there was even a shot on net. There was no room out there,” Cooper said. “We just weren’t getting everybody involved. Once we got pucks in, we were taking them to the net, we need to get our D involved a little more, and that’s what we did in the second, stretch them out a little bit. The key for us was to get the lead. Ultimately, our special teams won us the game.”
Before the special teams played their crucial role, Detroit would tie the game 1-1 when Tomas Tatar was on a 2-on-2 with Gustav Nyquist following a quick transition at the Lightning blue line. Tatar drew two Lightning defenders his way and took a shot that was stopped by Bishop. Unfortunately for Bishop, he kicked out the kind of big, fat, juicy rebound that makes forwards salivate. Nyquist was there to pounce on it, firing the puck into the back of the net for his 14th of the season at the 5:06 mark. However, that didn’t deter the Lightning, who began to control the flow of play, eventually leading to Johnson drawing a tripping penalty 6:08 into the period. On the ensuing power play, Kucherov had the puck in the left circle and faked a shot, sending the puck over to Johnson in the right circle. With Mrazek out of position, Johnson found the back of the net for his sixth goal of the season, with Kucherov and Victor Hedman earning the assists at the 6:30 mark and putting the Bolts up 2-1. During this period, the Lightning were faster through the neutral zone and quicker on the puck than Detroit, and Cedric Paquette nearly put the Lightning up 3-1, but his shot off a rebound barely went wide. With 8:57 left in the period, the Red Wings got their first power play of the night when Brian Boyle was called for holding Henrik Zetterberg, but Detroit was unable to get any shots on net during the man-advantage. Teemu Pulkkinen had a solid chance for the Wings soon after, but his shot during a rush down the right wing was turned aside by Bishop. With under two minutes left in the period, Killorn skated out of the near-side corner and put a backhand shot on net that Mrazek stopped. The rebound popped to Kucherov in the slot, but his shot was also deflected away by Mrazek. Things got chippy when Nyquist crashed into Bishop moments later, leading to Nikita Nesterov grabbing Nyquist and slamming him down. Both players took matching roughing penalties, and the Lightning would go into the intermission with a 19-18 edge in shots and a 2-1 lead.
Much like the second period, the Lightning didn’t waste any time extending their lead, as Nyquist was called for a holding-the-stick penalty, giving the Lightning their third power play of the night at the 2:24 mark. Some excellent work by Killorn to force a turnover behind the net by Danny DeKeyser led to the puck being picked up by Ondrej Palat. Palat centered the puck into the slot, and Kucherov buried it past Mrazek for his 21st of the season at the 3:23 mark, giving the Lightning a 3-1 lead with their second goal on the man-advantage. The rest of the period was a pretty tight-checking affair much like the first period had been, but Detroit began to press in the later stages of the period. However, a couple of quality chances for Dylan Larkin and Brendan Smith went high, and the Wings pulled Mrazek with about three minutes left. Former Bolt Brad Richards had a couple of shots swallowed up by Bishop, and the Lightning came away with an important two points. Johnson talked about how crucial it was to take advantage of their power play chances.
“Against Detroit, they play such tight hockey,” said Johnson. “Five-on-five, they limit chances, so for us to be able to score on the power play like we did, get those two opportunities, it’s huge. We need a lead against a team like that.”
The Lightning will look to add another two points this Friday when the host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The opening face-off is set for 7:30 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Nikita Kucherov – Continues to be a driving force behind the Lightning’s offense, assisting on Johnson’s game-winner and adding an insurance tally in the third period.
2nd Star: Tyler Johnson – Scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the second period, playing one of his best games of the season. Had several other scoring chances and was all over the ice.
3rd Star: Alex Killorn – Even though Bishop was named the third star by the attending media, I’m going to give this nod to Killorn. Created several scoring chances and did the dirty work that led to Kucherov’s goal, even though it won’t show up on the scoresheet.
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