Thursday, March 24, 2016

Game 73: The One That Got Them To First

Game: 73
Opponent: Detroit
Score: 6-2 W

Well, that is one way to answer the bell. In what could be described as their first real test of the season, the Lightning used a combination of skill, luck and some Detroit bungling to hammer the Red Wings by a score of 6-2. The win propelled Tampa Bay back into the top spot in the Atlantic division.

As discussed the last time we met here, the Lightning were kicking off a six-game homestand with the three most important games on the schedule. Detroit came in fighting for their playoff lives, but as one of the hotter teams in Eastern Conference. In their previous game they had come back from two goals down to beat the Florida Panthers.

Early on it looked like they were going to try and best that comeback by getting down by three goals to the Lightning. Each goal had it's own little flavor to it. The first goal was the result of the Detroit defense getting a little lackadaisical and allowing Brian Boyle to hit Ondrej Palat on a long stretch pass. That led to Palat and Erik Condra attacking 2-on-1. Palat fed Condra a nice pass and the Michigan native roofed it just under the bar for his first goal since December 5th.

Condra was in the game, along with Jonathan Marchessault due to injuries to Valteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan. He only played about 10 minutes, but played them like he didn't want to go back to the bench. Marchessault didn't register a point, but was his usual pesky self.

Goal number two was the result of J.T. Brown (who had a good game) working hard to generate a shot on net. Jimmy Howard couldn't find the puck which was sitting right between his legs. Vlad Namestnikov happened to be in the right spot and slammed it between the goalie's wickets for his career best 13th goal.

Goal three was just bad luck for the Red Wings. Steven Stamkos steamed down the right hand side and looked to pass it back to Alex Killorn who was open in front of the net. Unfortunately for Killorn it never made it through the defense. Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson did a great job of blocking the pass with his skate. He didn't do a great job of controlling where the puck went. It hit his skate and ricocheted past Howard and into the back of the net. Stamkos got credit for his 34th goal – hey, they can't all be blistering slapshots.

The game seemed in hand for the Lightning. A three goal lead, Detroit looked a step off and weren't putting any pressure on Ben Bishop. Most of the shots they attempted were blocked. Of course, because the Lightning can't do anything easy, they let Detroit back into the game. Justin Abdelkader scored on the power play and then Darren Helm got the Wings within one seven minutes later.

Darren Helm doesn't need his skates on the ground to score. Photo by Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

Shades of the Winnipeg game were rearing its ugly head. Were they going keel over or could they hold off the desperate Wings? Two minutes after Helm's goal the Lightning got a bit of a break. While already on the power play Abdelkader kind of skated into MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV with his stick out. He made contact with MBNK's back and pushed him into the boards. The ref's hand went up and the Lightning suddenly had a 5-on-3 power play.

One does not get away with gently pushing Kucherov to the ice. Shortly into the two-man advantage Tyler Johnson fired a pass across the crease to MBNK who was all alone at the side of the net and he slammed the puck into the gaping wide net. It was the 28th goal for the restricted free agent and probably jacked his next contract up a couple of hundred thousand dollars. The goal broke the Red Wings back and the Lightning would tack two more goals on in the third to complete the rout.

Hey, just hanging by the post. Mind if I slide this puck into the net. Scott Audette NHLI/Getty

The Lightning were tested and they passed. They outplayed the Red Wings for the vast majority of the game and didn't let the momentum get the best of them during the second period. Their passes were crisp and the blocked a ton of shots (14 by the official count). For once, Bishop didn't have to stand on his head to win a game. In fact I can't really remember him having to make any difficult saves.

The win not only put them in first place but also knocked the Red Wings out of the playoffs for the moment. Their next game is against the Islanders in, what is a nice quirk with the playoff seedings, could be a preview of a first round match-up.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Sadly our hero did not log a point despite the offensive explosion. Coach Cooper went with an 11 forward / 7 defensemen lineup with Carle suiting up as the 7th defennseman. He was only on the ice for 11:41 but did manage to finish as a solid +2. After his 3 points in 4 game explosion back in February Carle has now gone 10 points without a point.

I'm sure its been hard for him to adjust to his new role after a career as a point-generating top pairing blueliner. However, he has done it professionally and quietly. So credit to him for being a team player.

1 comment:

Jeff Jones said...

I thought that Helm goal was gonna swing the game. Glad I was proven wrong, hopefully we can play this way down the stretch