With Yanni Gourde, you take the bad with the good.
It’s mostly good, as the Lightning’s third-line center is usually generating offense around the net, winning faceoffs, killing penalties or contributing on the second power-play unit.
He’s often best when he’s at his worst, getting under opponents’ skin and moving them off their game. We saw it all in the first period of Game 4.
Gourde seemed intent on getting into the head of Jonathan Huberdeau and dragged the Panthers wing into a scuffle just minutes into the game, pulling one of Florida’s most skilled players into the penalty box with him. Center Anthony Cirelli scored the Lightning’s first goal 37 seconds later on the resulting four-on-four.
Gourde showed some skill of his own just over four minutes later, tipping in a Nikita Kucherov shot from just inside the blue line to double the Lightning lead. It was a deft deflection, from a few feet wide of the net into the short side as he fought for position with Florida defenseman Markus Nutivaara.
But Gourde’s antics caught up with him later in the period when he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct against Huberdeau, who made him pay for the infraction by scoring on the ensuing power play.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Gourde said during a first-intermission interview on Bally Sports Sun. “Me and Huberdeau, we compete and that’s what happens. When guys are competing hard, I think, things can get fired up a little bit. That’s hockey, though.”
Winning hockey, in the Lightning’s case.
Here is how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in their 6-2 win in Game 4:
No answer for Kuch
Nikita Kucherov was the Lightning’s leading scorer during last season’s Stanley Cup run and a deserving Conn Smythe candidate.
This season, he seems to have a bigger title in mind: Best player in the world.
Rested after sitting out the regular season following hip surgery, Kucherov has been the best player since the start of the postseason. His goal and three assists Saturday gave him nine points, including six assists, in his first four playoff games.
He is especially dangerous on the power play, striking from seemingly anywhere. When he isn’t scoring on a one-timer from the right circle, he is feeding Brayden Point in the slot, setting up Alex Killorn at the top of the crease or, in the case of Gourde’s goal, putting a shot on net from just inside the blue line.
Apparently, the only way to slow Kucherov is to hurt him, which Anthony Duclair did in the third period, slashing Kucherov on the back of the leg on a dirty and unnecessary play well away from the puck. Duclair received a two-minute slashing penalty but seemed to deserve much more.
The Lightning did not lose back-to-back postseason games at any point during last season’s Cup run, Andrei Vasilevskiy winning each of his seven games following a loss.
Two days after allowing six goals in the Game 3 setback, Vasilevskiy was back at the top of his game, stopping 39 of 41 shots. Florida had plenty of good looks and got traffic to the front of the net, but Vasilevskiy tracked the puck well and stayed in control despite the Panthers’ best attempts to rattle him.
Patric Hornqvist was in Vasilevskiy’s face during a second-period power play, but the Lightning goaltender at one point managed to make a blocker save while looking over Hornqvist’s left shoulder and stopping the puck on the other side of the Panthers power forward.
Ryan Lomberg tried to get under Vasilevskiy’s skin later in the period, twice crashing into him during a scrum in front of the Lightning net. No worse for wear, Vasilevskiy shortly thereafter slid to his left to stop a chance from Markus Nutivaara, left alone in front of the net, during a delayed penalty against Victor Hedman.
Killorn doesn’t just conduct entertaining interviews with teammates and other local sports celebrities on his Sea-Doo. He’s also a heck of a hockey player, one whose value too often goes underappreciated.
It was in full view Saturday, as Killorn scored two second-period goals to stake the Lightning to a 5-1 lead and had a chance at a natural hat trick during a shorthanded breakaway opportunity later in the period.
Killorn’s name often comes up in trade speculation, mostly due to his contract, but he consistently has been one of the Lightning’s best postseason players.
Got his back
The Lightning penalty killers picked up Kucherov after he was inexplicably penalized for interfering with goaltender Chris Driedger during a late second-period breakaway.
Mackenzie Weegar pushed Kucherov from behind as he broke in alone on Driedger, and Kucherov crashed helmet to helmet into the Florida goaltender, who was down on the ice for a long time after the play.
But a Florida power play that had scored twice earlier in the game never really threatened in the two minutes after the Kucherov penalty, which stretched into the start of the third period. Tampa Bay’s penalty killers didn’t give them the chance.
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