TAMPA — If there’s one thing that has haunted the Lightning this season, it has been playing too loose in their end, and because of that, they’ve had to score a lot to win games.
For the most part, they’ve gotten away with it, but they still needed 60 minutes of sound defensive hockey to feel better about their all-around game.
Though the Flames nearly doubled the Lightning’s shot volume Thursday night at Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay protected the front of its net and limited Calgary’s high-danger chances, and the result was a 4-1 victory, the Lightning’s third straight.
The Lightning (10-6-1) had allowed three or more goals in 10 of their previous 11 games and 13 of 16, far from an ideal winning formula.
They were outshot 40-24 by the Flames but had more high-danger scoring chances by a 17-5 margin. The result was the fewest goals Tampa Bay has allowed all season.
“I’ll take the chances we had over the ones (the Flames) had,” coach Jon Cooper said. “They had shot volume, and they were getting pucks to the net, but your goalie’s seeing them, and they were from the outside. It’s just limiting what happens after that. I thought we did a good job of that.”
The Lightning also wanted to reward goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, whose numbers haven’t indicated how well he has played this season because of the chances his teammates have allowed.
“For sure, we needed it for our confidence on the back end and for ‘Vasy,’ " said defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who had two assists. “Obviously, we’ve been giving up more than three (goals a game), and it’s not a good number for us. (Thursday) was a good game, and ‘Vasy’ played unbelievable.”
Though it was a busy night for Vasilevskiy, who made 39 saves, the key was making sure he saw the shots. The Lightning focused on keeping Calgary to the outside, boxing out the Flames to keep them away from the high-danger zones in the middle of the ice to prevent screens, and second and third scoring chances.
“That’s something we talked about,” Cooper said. “Bottom line is, if you’re not protecting the middle, you’re in trouble, and now you’re putting major stress on the goaltender because teams are going to get chances.
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“The big thing was for us to make sure we’re keeping our gaps, making it hard to get in our zone. We did OK at that, but we weren’t letting second chances happen. We weren’t letting those east-west plays happen.”
After Calgary had an apparent first-period goal negated by an offside call, Steven Stamkos put the Lightning ahead 1-0 just over eight minutes into the game.
The Flames were pushing throughout a second period in which they outshot the Lightning 16-6, but Nikita Kucherov’s power-play goal with 1:44 left in the period gave Tampa Bay a two-goal cushion.
When Flames forward Elias Lindholm’s power-play goal less than five minutes into the third cut the Lightning lead to one, the Lightning answered right back on defenseman Philippe Myers’ first goal of the season 10 seconds later.
“Coaches, that’s their worst nightmare, right?” Stamkos said. “They always harp on the guys, whether it’s a goal for or a goal against, the next shift needs to be a good one, at least an even one. So for us to go out and (Myers) to get one, it’s nice to see him get on the score sheet, and it was a big goal for us.”
Myers’ goal came with the Lightning back end shorthanded. Right-shot defenseman Nick Perbix left midway through the second period after blocking a shot and didn’t return. Left-side defenseman Ian Cole left briefly in the third after also blocking a shot.
Calgary goaltender Jacob Markstrom seemed to be caught off-guard by Myers’ shot from just inside the blue line near the right-side boards and was beaten on his glove side.
“I think it was huge just to kind of get that two-goal lead back, just get a little more breathing room,” Myers said. “We’ll just take it and move forward.”
Kucherov closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal with 13.7 seconds remaining for his eighth multipoint game.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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