Cary, NC — The Tampa Bay Lightning are the Stanley Cup Champs for a reason.
They are a well-balanced team with 4 solid forward lines. They have a mobile and beefy defense that constantly thinks like forwards but is responsible on defense, well-coached and always plays a full 60 minutes of 200’ hockey.
Game 1: Canes Blanked By Bolts, 3-0
The Bolts took advantage of the Canes’ sluggish start, popping in 2 goals in the first.
Rookie Ross Colton playing in his first NHL game scored on his first shot. The play started on the area above the far circle when Victor Hedman got the puck, skated high with Martin Necas in chase as there was a mix-up in coverage.
Necas has the speed to catch Hedman, so with Hedman going to the top center, circling around the near board, Necas started to cover Hedman but Jan Rutta set an old fashioned basketball pick and with his head concentrating on Hedman, got nailed by the pick allowing Hedman to continue to the goal. Very close to an interference penalty but no call.
Nino Niederreiter picked up Hedman forcing him to go behind the net with Colton just above the crease where Vincent Trocheck and Jaccob Slavin were staked out. Hedman backhanded a pass on to Colton’s stick that wasn’t tied up for an easy redirect for the 1-0 lead.
Canes Get the Wake-Up Call
Not that the Bolts needed a boost to their play but that goal was like blood in the water for a shark as they ratcheted up their play a notch. Speed, long passes, multiple passes, possession, shots- both attempts and on net, takeaways and forechecking were putting the Canes on their heels.
Late in the period, Brock McGinn got called for hooking which replay showed it was about as weak of a call possible but yes, was a penalty by the books. The defense was doing an excellent job of thwarting any threat by Tampa Bay but after another clear to the far goal line, the Bolts carried the puck up the middle then made entry into the Canes’ end along the near boards.
With all 4 Canes defenders lined up like a wall near the blue line, Blake Coleman took advantage, using his speed to split the defense going straight to the goal. He got behind the defense with Yanni Gourde sending a leading pass to Coleman for a picture perfect tip-in. Second big mistake by the Canes and second goal for the Lightning.
Call it a wake-up call as the Canes play after that was significantly better.
Nedeljkovic Matches Vasilevskiy Save-For-Save
With the Canes play much improved over the first period and the Lightning’s staying at their high level, the second period was much more entertaining. Each team had their opportunities with Alex Nedeljkovic and All-World Andrei Vasilevskiy stopping everything tossed at them with each making several highlight-reel saves.
In a surprise switch in the stats, Slavo had the most shots on goal for the Canes with 5, and while yes he’s shooting to score, he’s mostly shooting for a tip-in by the forwards creating traffic in front.
Andrei Svechnikov led the forwards with 4 shots on goal and registered a team-high 5 hits which fits in with his comfort for a physical style of game. Some of the Canes forwards were pushed around like rag dolls in certain situations as they were a good 40 to 50 pounds smaller than the Bolt defenders.
While the Bolts had 31 hits to the Canes 21, give the Canes credit for not backing down as Hedman, the biggest player on either team, was the Canes #1 target.
All 4 Canes centers did a great job in the faceoff circle winning 64% of the time with Sebastian Aho taking top honors with a very impressive 86% with rookie Steve Lorentz winning an unbelievable 64%. Next on the checklist is to turn those wins into goals.
Canes Continue Play Improvement Into Third
The Canes’ play in the third continued the improvement seen during the second. Tampa Bay knows how to win with a lead and in the third. Typically sending 2 forwards deep with one staying back in the high slot to enable a third defender in the Canes to get a breakout.
That strategy was very effective that took away any Canes fast break but did allow the Canes for more entries into the Bolts’ end and forced the Canes to have better possession. In keeping with the way the Canes played this game, the third was clearly their best period.
Coach Rod Brind’Amour pulled Ned with just under 3 minutes to go and the Canes’ pressure in the Bolts end was very strong, but Vasilevskiy was up to the challenge stopping everything. With just over 35 seconds to go, the Bolts cleared their zone with Barclay Goodrow slipping in an empty netter to seal the win, setting up the last game of this 4 consecutive game series to be an exciting game.
Best line from Brind’Amour during the post-game interview when asked, “What was the biggest hurdle to the game to get a win?” Roddy’s answer was a simple—”Tampa Bay” with his head shaking and eyes virtually saying, “duh….”
Game 2: Lightning Shock Canes, 3-1
Unlike the game the night before, the Carolina Hurricanes were the better team this game but still came up on the wrong side of the scoreboard with a 3-1 loss. This one had to hurt a lot.
After the previous game, every player, every coach, knew to beat anyone in the NHL, especially the defending champions, it takes a full 60 minutes. Everyone on the bench gave it their all whenever their shift was called. A huge noticeable difference from Wednesday’s game where the Canes first period was one to forget.
In this game, the Canes came out on fire. You could see it in their body language, in how hard they were skating, in how much better the forechecking was and in everyone playing a full 200’ game.
Pesce Slams Home A Beauty from Fast
Former Hurricane Curtis McElhinney was in goal for a very rare start with the Canes tapping James Reimer. In the first, the Canes had a game-high 13 shots on net while limiting the potent Bolts to a game-low of 6. Besides playing the same team back to back, they also have the same officiating crew.
The expectation was for these 2 highly skilled teams to limit the penalties, especially with the Bolts’ powerful powerplay, but that wasn’t the case. Throughout the game, in addition to legitimate ‘hard or reckless’ penalties soft penalties were called while obvious dangerous penalties were not called.
The Canes killed off a smart holding penalty by Dougie Hamilton that was either take the penalty or chance of goal as Blake Coleman was going in on Reims all alone. After the successful kill, the Canes broke the scoreless tie.
Knowing he was going to get crunched into the boards, Andrei Svechnikov made a gutsy play, putting the puck on his stick and making a soft backhand pass to Sebastian Aho at the Canes blue line before getting hit from behind into the boards.
Fishy carried the puck over the Bolts’ blue line, making an immediate button hook, dropping a pass to Jesper Fast streaking down along the boards. Quickie skated down into the faceoff circle, saw Brett Pesce joining the rush on the right side who passed his defender by 3 strides, then saucered a pass under the stick of Coleman sprawled out, that Pesch smacked in for a beauty of a goal.
After the ensuing faceoff with the puck in the Canes end, Pesch accidentally flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty just 9 seconds after his goal. The good news is the Canes penalty kill teams did a great job. Their aggressive approach forced Alex Killorn to slash the stick out of Brock McGinn’s hands as he stole the puck starting for the goal just 30 seconds into Pesce’s penalty.
Bolts Tie The Game On Defense Let Down
The second period was about as close to playoff hockey as you’ll see during the regular season. Solid hard play by both teams with constant end-to-end action. Rookie Jake Bean, who, when he puts on a few pounds of muscle will add to his skill set and be a high-end player, deked Pat Maroon near the blue line that Maroon took offense to with a slash.
The Canes’ first powerplay unit looked great with everything going their way- great possession in the O-zone, crisp passing, movement, big bodies in front of the crease. The only problem- they couldn’t put the puck in the net which proves the old Kelly saying; it takes more than looks, but boy they sure help.
A little over midway in the period, the Bolts won a faceoff as Brayden Point drew the puck back to Mikhail Sergachev on the right point. Sergachev carried the puck along the far boards, continued through the corner going right to the goal untouched, then when 5’ from the corner chose to shoot with the puck hitting the inside of Reims blocker glove to squirt into the net.
Call this the first defensive letdown that resulted in a goal. The period ended with the Canes killing off an interference penalty by rookie Steve Lorentz that baffled every player on both teams. Lorentz and Killorn were battling for the puck along the boards, the puck was knocked free with both on the boards then the call was made.
When the whistle was blown, both teams were skating to their benches for line changes when a linesman told Lorentz he had a penalty, much to his, and Brind’Amour’s surprise.
Canes Stymied In The Third
The Canes successfully killed the back end of Lorentz’s soft penalty with the game getting tighter.
Consecutive passes were becoming a rarity as the forechecking by every skater was just what coaches preach at every practice. After the Canes had some seriously good chances in the Bolts zone, Mr. Monster, Victor Hedman made a Hail Mary pass 120’ up to Yanni Gourde at the Canes blue line.
Ginner was the lone Cane back and was about 12-15’ off Gourde, who had only one option which is always a good thing- shoot the puck, which he did with the puck deflecting off Ginner’s stick into the upper far corner for the 2-1 Bolt advantage. There was plenty of time left to tie the game but Tampa Bay knows how to play to win a game when they have the lead late in a game.
They mostly send 2 forwards deep with the third forward staying high for an additional defender when the opposition starts towards their end. Midway in the period, Svech was going for a puck in the far corner in the Bolts end when he was viciously cross-checked from behind, sending him into the boards with his legs looking like Bambi walking on ice.
With no penalty called, which clearly should have been called, Svech made some comment to the ref but I’m not sure if it was in English or Russian. He didn’t get a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct so I suppose it was in Russian as the ref was Canadian and probably couldn’t understand Russian for ‘ hey, you missed that call’ or something close to that.
At the 7:48 mark, Maroon virtually mugged Jordan Martinook right in front of McElhinney. Martinook retaliated with Maroon getting a double minor to Marty’s roughing penalty resulting in the Canes’ last powerplay. Again, looks aren’t everything as good as the man advantage looked, it didn’t get the desperately needed goal.
With just over 2 minutes left, Roddy pulled Reims for the extra skater. The first minute and a half were all in the Bolts’ ends and you could sense a goal was coming. After the Lightning defense cleared the puck deep into the Canes’ end, Jaccob Slavin gathered the puck.
He waited for the play to form then headed up the ice, making a pass to Fishy skating up the right side in the neutral zone. But, in a very rare instance, didn’t calculate the right time for the pass which landed on Barclay Goodrow’s stick who settled it for an empty netter for the second game in a row killing any comeback for the Canes.
This game was a stinger for the Canes as they were the better team on the ice just couldn’t get the right bounce. Their powerplay was the weak link only salvaged by the excellent penalty killing.
The next series of games is on the other side of the Sunshine State as the Canes play the Panthers who are still hot as fire. Nothing gets easier in the NHL.
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