We may have mentioned this once or twice, but since the Hurricanes clearly weren’t paying attention:
You don’t want to put the Lightning on the power play.
Louder, for those in the back:
YOU DON’T WANT TO PUT THE LIGHTING ON THE POWER PLAY!
Carolina, desperate to avoid slipping closer to elimination in its second-round series against Tampa Bay, played its best 12 minutes of the series at the start of the second period of Game 4 Saturday at Amalie Arena.
The Hurricanes outskated the Lightning, won puck battles and took advantage of their opportunities, scoring four times, including twice in 39 seconds, to seemingly take control, 4-2. For the first time this postseason, they made goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and Tampa Bay look beatable. They appeared to be back in the series.
Until they weren’t. And they had no one to blame but themselves.
The Hurricanes took three ill-advised, offensive-zone (!) penalties in the period, and the Lightning turned every one into a dagger through the heart.
Steven Stamkos put a rebound into an empty net after Petr Mrazek was unable to hold on to a Brayden Point shot from the slot and Alex Killorn rung a rebound attempt off the crossbar, tying the score at 2.
Then down 4-2, Nikita Kucherov whipped a shot past Mrazek from the top of the right circle. After a Tyler Johnson even-strength goal off the rush, Stamkos struck again on the power play, finishing a cross-ice pass from Kucherov.
In fewer than five minutes, Tampa Bay turned a two-goal deficit into a one-goal lead. And, in time, a stranglehold on the series.
There is no more dangerous weapon in the NHL right now than the Lightning power play, which has accounted for five goals in the past two games.
Play with fire, as Carolina did by taking seven penalties and giving Tampa Bay six power plays, and you’re gonna get burned. The ‘Canes got torched.
Here’s how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in their 6-4 win in Game 4:
Playing with a purpose
Think Kucherov was bothered by the penalty he took in overtime of Game 3 that led directly to Jordan Staal’s winning goal?
A little bit. Kucherov, outrageously skilled to begin with, might have been the most determined player on the ice in Game 4, and it made him, in the words of head coach Jon Cooper, “borderline unstoppable.”
He skated with a purpose, fired shots from everywhere and continually kept Carolina guessing. He set up Stamkos’ first goal with a coast-to-coast rush into the Hurricanes’ zone, then assisted on his second by skating to the middle, faking a shot and sending a pass across the ice to the Tampa Bay captain.
Kucherov’s first goal came after he did a nice job of keeping the puck in the zone after a Stamkos shot caromed around the boards. He surprised Mrazek on his second goal, shooting off his back foot from the high slot when most skaters likely would have taken the puck to the net.
There is no more dangerous Kucherov than an angry Kucherov, whether it’s due to opponents trying to get under his skin with hard hits or stick jabs (remember that high stick to the helmet from Brady Skjei in the first period?), or frustration at himself.
He takes his game to another level, one his opponents’ simply cannot reach.
Can we get some love for Ondrej Palat?
The left wing doesn’t garner anywhere near as much attention as top-line mates Kucherov and Point. But he is one of Tampa Bay’s most valuable players at both ends of the ice and considerably more skilled than he gets credit for.
He had two assists in Game 4, setting up Point’s opening goal in the first period with a tape-to-tape pass from the left circle to the crease and Kucherov’s insurance goal with a nice drop pass in the third.
Palat had a chance at the winning goal when he broke in alone on Mrazek with the score tied at 4 late in the second period but was robbed by the Carolina goaltender.
Kucherov and Stamkos were the stars of the game, but Palat was best in a supporting role.
First time for everything
I saw two things in the first few minutes I had never seen before in an NHL game.
Even before the opening puck drop, the Hurricanes’ Warren Foegele and Lightning’s Blake Coleman were sent to the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct after exchanging shoves and cross-checks, and the game started with only eight skaters on the ice.
A few minutes later, Kucherov was slow to get up after getting hit in the helmet by a high stick from Skjei. Skjei first went to the penalty box, then returned to the Carolina bench after officials told him there had been no penalty on the play.
A Hurricanes beat reporter tweeted that he was told the linesman called the high stick but there could not be a penalty on the play because there was no injury or blood resulting from the infraction.
Whatever the explanation, Cooper, visibly incensed after the play, wasn’t buying it.
Grade: H, for huh?
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