TAMPA — The Lightning have seen a lot of the Hurricanes over the past week, and by now they know the best way to beat Carolina is to keep the puck off its sticks.
The three previous meetings between the teams were hard fought. The Hurricanes were physical, fast and sometimes frustrating for the Lightning. But on Wednesday night, Tampa Bay had a tested game plan ready.
After getting an early boost from rookie forward Ross Colton’s first NHL goal 6:43 into his first game, the Lightning turned in their best defensive performance of the season. The 3-0 victory was their first shutout of the season.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (25 saves) withstood a third-period Carolina surge to record his first shutout of the season and the 22nd of his career.
Though Vasilevskiy rightfully was the game’s first star, the Lightning (12-4-1) played strong defensively as a team.
“It was a good team win, and (the Hurricanes are) an exceptional team,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They’re tough to play against and, you know, it’s two good hockey teams going at it. ... For us to have success, we’ve got to limit how many shots they get to the net, and I thought we did a pretty good job tonight.”
The key to the Lightning’s win was maintaining puck possession throughout, even as the Hurricanes rallied in the final period. At one point in the second period, Carolina went nine minutes without a shot.
Colton became the ninth Lightning player to score in his NHL debut. Defenseman Victor Hedman skated behind the net and flicked the puck toward the crease, near where Colton was stationed. Colton beat Carolina goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic to his glove side.
The second score was power-play artistry, as the Lightning used their speed and precision passing to get behind the Carolina defense. Pat Maroon found Yanni Gourde streaking down the right side, and Gourde fed Blake Coleman trailing through the slot. Coleman beat Nedelkovic to his stick side.
Over the first two periods, the Lightning doubled the Hurricanes’ coring chances by a 19-7 margin. Tampa Bay outhit Carolina 31-24 and had 13 blocked shots to the Hurricanes’ 8.
“Guys were skating, guys were competing, guys were blocking shots, doing the things you’ve got to do to win,” Coleman said. “And when you see guys doing that, it’s one of those things, it’s contagious in the lineup. It was up and down (the lineup). I think the forwards were coming back and the D were playing quickly, playing hard and blocking shots.”
Tampa Bay killed both of the Hurricanes’ power plays and even created two shorthanded scoring opportunities on Carolina’s first power play in the second period.
Before Barclay Goodrow’s empty net goal with 35 seconds remaining sealed the win, the Lightning remained strong on defense when Carolina added an extra attacker with 3:07 left, allowing just one shot down the stretch.
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“The big thing for me is, I thought we limited them for much of the game on their shot attempts,” Cooper said. “And very much like (Monday) night ... I think maybe they got one shot on net that whole time. It was just our guys were in good spots, and when we weren’t, Vasy was there to bail us out.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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