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Lightning play clean, defensive game to beat the Panthers

Tampa Bay doesn’t make costly mistakes and pays attention to details on defense, just like the team has been talking about.
The Lightning's Anthony Cirelli (71) and goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy, right, watch the puck as the Panthers' Noel Acciari (55) defends during the second period on Tuesday in Sunrise. [LUIS M. ALVAREZ  |  AP]
The Lightning's Anthony Cirelli (71) and goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy, right, watch the puck as the Panthers' Noel Acciari (55) defends during the second period on Tuesday in Sunrise. [LUIS M. ALVAREZ | AP]
Published Dec. 11, 2019

SUNRISE — Defense brings offense. The Lightning have been saying it for months and they showed it to be true on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay played out of its own zone, demonstrating defensive responsibility without making any of the costly mistakes that have cropped up recently. Doing exactly as they said led to few Panthers’ chances, 48 shots of their own and a 2-1 win.

“Not often in the last couple has two goals been enough to win,” Steven Stamkos said. “But we really tightened it up tonight and it was nice to see.”

The Lightning captain called it a good response to Monday’s 5-1 loss to the Islanders, another game the Lightning felt they had mostly played well but for some mistakes.

There was no “mostly” on Tuesday. The Lightning scored first and held the lead throughout.

Stamkos scored late in the first period. He, Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn forechecked hard. Killorn forced a turnover along the boards, after Stamkos might have gotten away with a trip. He passed over to Stamkos, who made a move to get around Sergei Bobrovsky and made the goal look easy.

The response to their own goals has been questionable lately, but the Lightning came out hard after scoring.

“I was really happy with our effort once we got the lead,” Killorn said. “It didn’t seem like we sat back at all. It seemed like we even elevated our game a bit more.”

The Lightning's Steven Stamkos (91) reacts after scoring a goal against Florida Panthers goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky during the first period. [LUIS M. ALVAREZ | AP]

They protected the lead without giving up the attack mentality, and without sitting back, then lapsing somewhere.

The Lightning played a consistent game throughout. The only thing that made coach Jon Cooper a little nervous was not getting the third goal to put the game out of reach. But they didn’t end up needing that one.

They had plenty of chances with the 48 shots, but Sergei Bobrovsky, the goalie who stymied the Lightning in the playoffs last year, held up in net.

“The less time you spend in your D zone, the more time you’ll spend in your O-zone,” Killorn said. “Structurally, if you’re better defensively, you’re not going to spend as much time there. I think we tightened some things up in the past couple games.”

Killorn scored the second goal with a nice backhanded rebound of Cirelli’s shot to give the Lightning an insurance goal they ended up needing.

Evegenii Dadonov tipped in a shot with two minutes left to break up the shutout bid. It was the second time in the past four days that Vasilevskiy has lost a shutout late.

“You have to feel for Vasy at the end,” Cooper said. “It takes a big-time tip to beat him. But it was a great effort all the way around.”

The Lightning only allowed 28 shots on net and while there were some good chances, for the most part Vasilevskiy had space to see them coming.

What Cooper liked most about his team’s game overall was the lack of second and third chances they gave the Panthers. Vasilevskiy controlled rebounds, typically a strength of his, and players cleared out pucks.

The Lightning paid attention to the defensive details, again, just like they’ve been talking about.

“Guys were getting in lanes, they were blocking shots,” Cooper said. “They were making their clears and it helped us out tonight. If you want to play defense, it’s a team game, you can’t just sit there and depend on your goalie.”

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