The Lightning’s power play had been toiling. On 16 opportunities over seven games, it had chances, momentum and duds … but no goals.
Tampa Bay broke that streak in the first period, then piled on a couple more power-play goals to bust the slump, all on the way to a 7-1 blowout of the Bruins and a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“At some point they were bound to go in,” coach Jon Cooper said after Wednesday’s game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.
Winger Ondrej Palat got the Lightning started. They were unable to score on their first power play in the opening minute, but he connected on the second midway through the period.
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev set him up with a long pass, from the point just left of center to the above the right dot, and Palat one-timed it past goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
As the night went on, the power play went from a groan-inducing “here we go again,” as it had become in the postseason, to the likely goal opportunity the Lightning had known in the regular season.
They stuck with the same personnel, having tried a couple of iterations, keeping Sergachev on the top unit in lieu of Victor Hedman. But Palat and Nikita Kucherov switched wings.
Typically, Kucherov plays on the right, befitting his role as right wing, and Steven Stamkos plays on the left. Without Stamkos, Palat has been in that spot.
Switching Kucherov to the left side, where he is facing up the ice rather than at the goal, closes him off, which sounds like a bad thing but worked in this case. Kucherov had to move around more, loops up high in the zone to pick up some momentum. That forces everyone else to move as well, and movement creates openings.
On the second power-play goal, Kucherov carried the puck down low in the zone, almost to the goal line wide of the circle, drawing most of the Bruins’ attention with him.
That set him up to flip the puck back up high to Sergachev, who had pinched in toward the high slot. Sergachev landed the one-timer to put the Lightning up 3-0 just 2:14 into the second period.
As much as creating movement, switching Kucherov and Palat was about giving the Bruins a different look. Little tweaks can go a long way when something isn’t working or an opponent feels they have a grasp on how you do things.
The Bruins had done a good job of getting on the puck through the first two games, now they had to approach that differently. The Lightning’s adjustment worked.
Cooper felt the shift started the night before. Late in the game Tuesday night, the Lightning played their best power play of the postseason up to that point. They sustained not just possession, but pressure, putting multiple chances on the net.
Cooper consistently has stressed all season that a power play doesn’t always have to score to be productive. For him, it’s often about if after two minutes the team has seized momentum.
That point has a harder time standing on its own against an 0-for-16 streak.
“I know guys were getting frustrated,” said Alex Killorn, who scored the third power-play goal of the night. “But tonight was a great night for our confidence.”