There’s been so much talk about the Lightning being a tougher, grittier team this postseason, it’s easy to overlook the obvious:
They can still score. Quickly, and in bunches.
Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde scored 15 seconds apart to give Tampa Bay an early two-goal lead in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bruins on Wednesday night. A power play that had been unsuccessful on its previous 16 chances made good on three consecutive opportunities with the man advantage.
The transition game was in high gear, as Brayden Point scored on a breakaway. Shortly afterward, Alex Killorn backhanded a rebound into the net after Gourde skated free into the Boston zone.
And Nikita Kucherov, the franchise leader in career playoff points, was the catalyst, with a goal and three assists.
It was reminiscent of the high-flying squad that tied an NHL regular-season record with 62 wins last season.
Not to say the Lightning played a soft game. It’s just now they have some sandpaper to go with their skill.
They matched Boston’s physicality, with Luke Schenn, Alex Killorn and Braydon Coburn setting the tone, and avoided the bad penalties that hampered them earlier in the series.
This time, it was the Bruins making the undisciplined plays and the Lightning making them pay.
Here is how we graded the Lightning’s performance in the 7-1 win:
The Lightning scored every way imaginable: Off the rush. In transition. On breakaways. From the point. From in close. On the power play. On outstanding individual moves.
Fourteen players had shots on goal, as Tampa Bay registered 31 in all. But it wasn’t about volume, it was about quality chances.
And the Lightning buried most of them.
Kucherov’s four points tied a Lightning playoff record. Killorn had two goals and an assist, Point and Mikhail Sergachev each had a goal and two assists. Palat and Gourde added a goal and an assist apiece.
And, in a first for the series, the Lightning won the faceoff battle, 55 percent to 45 percent.
Coach Jon Cooper liked the contributions he got from Schenn and Coburn as replacements for injured Ryan McDonagh in Game 2 and stayed with the seven-defensemen lineup for Game 3.
One of the biggest benefits of the big lead was the chance to rest Victor Hedman. The Norris Trophy finalist logged 18:03 of ice time, 10-1/2 minutes fewer than he played in Game 2. He finished with two shots on goal and finished plus-2.
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Zach Bogosian made the defensive play of the game in the second period, lifting Chris Wagner’s stick from behind to prevent a shot as the Boston forward broke in alone on Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning power play got off to an inauspicious start, as Sergachev had three shots blocked from the point and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron got off two shorthanded shots early in the first period. It extended Tampa Bay’s stretch of failed power plays to 16 going back to the start of the Columbus series.
Looking to change things up, the Lightning moved Palat to the right circle and Kucherov to the left side during Game 2. The gambit worked, as Palat scored from the circle on the Lightning’s second chance with the man advantage, the shot deflecting off Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara’s stick over goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s left shoulder.
Just like that, the slide was over and a new streak began, with Tampa Bay scoring on three straight power plays.
Kucherov assisted on all three power-play goals. Sergachev got shots to the net and Killorn battled in front, diving to score on a rebound of a Palat shot in the second period.
The Lightning were 3-for-6, but played secondary players on its final two chances, the last of which was negated right from the start when Cedric Paquette was penalized for interference following the faceoff.
Tampa Bay killed 2 of 3 penalties, the Boston goal coming when Torey Krug passed from the left circle to Brad Marchand, who got lost in coverage just as he did twice in Game 2 and tipped the puck past Vasilevskiy from the edge of the crease.
Playing on back-to-back nights for the first time this season, Andrei Vasilevskiy had a fairly leisurely game. After facing just 25 shots in Game 2, he saw only 22 on Wednesday, stopping all but one.
It was a welcome respite for the Vezina Trophy finalist, who had to carry the Lightning for much of the end of the Columbus series and the early part of this one.
Conversely, Boston goalie Jaroslav Halak was chased in the second period after allowing four goals on 16 shots. Backup Dan Vladar allowed three goals on 15 shots in his NHL debut.