Even though the Lightning and Hurricanes are two of the league’s highest-scoring teams, when they meet, don’t expect a shootout.
Their first matchup was scoreless until overtime, and the way the Hurricanes relentlessly pressure the puck, they force a game that can be fast-paced, but also frustrating. Goals are at a premium.
In the extra practice sessions made possible by the postponement of two games in Dallas, the Lightning focused on playing more direct up the ice and possessing the puck better. And through most of the first period Saturday night, they did that.
But when a fluky goal put them behind, the Lightning showed some uncharacteristic uneasiness, and the result was a 4-0 loss to the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
Granted, everything turned quickly on the Lightning, and we’re not even talking about what happened on the ice. They were supposed to have Saturday night off after both games of this past week’s series in Dallas were postponed, but the league made an impromptu schedule switch, sending the Lightning to Raleigh, N.C. early to play the Hurricanes.
With three more games coming up against Carolina (12-3-1), the Lightning (10-4-1), have not only lost three of four overall, but they haven’t scored a goal against the Hurricanes in six regulation periods this season.
“It’s coming,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “It’s just that complete package of game that when we’re on, we know we’re really tough to beat, and we were off for a little bit tonight. Sometimes you have to give the other team credit because they executed their game plan really well. We believe in ourselves. I mean, there’s no panic in this dressing room.”
After their previous meeting with Carolina on Jan. 28 ended with an 1-0 overtime loss, the Lightning knew goals would be at a premium. In preparing for the Hurricanes, they knew the key would be passing the puck quickly but also precisely. The Hurricanes are a ferocious forechecking team looking to lay out a hit and interfere with their opponent’s flow of the game.
“They don’t allow much,” Stamkos said. “I don’t think you can go in and expect to have 30, 40 shots against them. I think you have to be comfortable playing a certain style of game, and it’s not going to be a 5-4 game.”
Tampa Bay fell behind 1-0 early in the second period, and wasn’t really the same team after that. Carolina scored 2:19 into the period after a rim pass behind the Lightning net skipped over defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s stick and to Hurricanes forward Martin Necas.
Necas put the puck on net, and Nino Niederreiter’s deflection hit off Lightning forward Alex Killorn and toward the net. Vincent Trocheck, positioned behind the net, reached around and tucked the puck over the goal line before Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy could kick it away.
“They got a lucky one,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s what happens (with) two good teams. They had a lucky one that went in and then we chased it. And then we started turning the puck over, doing all these things that when you’re trying to win a one-nothing game you can’t do. And that was our lack of discipline is we couldn’t stick with the game plan. And this is what happened.”
The Lightning allowed two more goals that were created by turnovers in their own end, and then an empty-netter in the waning minutes of the game.
Lightning center Brayden Point, who had two of the Lightning’s best scoring opportunities in the second period, made a costly puck-handling mistake, losing the puck after getting stuck against the boards in the defensive zone.
With two Hurricanes converging, Point tried to pass the puck back, but it deflected out to a wide-open Sebastian Aho, who maintained possession through Vasilevskiy’s stick poke and beat him far post to make it 2-0.
And 3:12 into the third period, wing Alex Volkov lost the puck in the defensive zone, leading to a goal by former Lightning center Cedric Paquette, who crashed the net with a shot from the slot in traffic.
Vasilevskiy did his part to keep the game close, turning away Brock McGinn’s shot on a 3-on-2 rush that was created by a second-period turnover. He also stopped Niederreiter on a breakaway later in the period.
“It’s kind of a battle of patience,” Killorn said. “Even though there’s an unlucky goal. It’s not like we’re playing terrible I think we kind of forced things in the third. We kind of got out of our system a little bit because we’re trying to fight back and score that goal and you just got to stick with it. Just kind of got away from us there.”
Andrei Svechnikov added an empty-net goal.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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