SEATTLE — Since the beginning of the new year, no team had been better than the Kraken. They returned home from a perfect seven-game road trip that included wins in Boston and Toronto. Winners of all eight of their games in January, they were averaging more than five goals a game this month.
Shutting down the Kraken would to be no small task for the Lightning, but Tampa Bay continued to use this road trip as an opportunity to show how they can win games by playing well in their own end, and the result was one of their best defensive efforts of the season Monday.
The Lightning stymied a dangerous Seattle attack and won their fourth straight game, beating the Kraken 4-1 before heading north of the border for three games in western Canada.
“We played a pretty complete game, to be honest. I didn’t feel like we were in a ton of trouble all night,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They’re a good hockey team so they were going to get some chances, but I thought we limited them pretty well. They pushed, of course to be expected, but we weathered it.”
In a tight checking game, the Lightning got critical offense from their bottom six — goals from centers Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Nick Paul — before opening up their lead with a pair of empty-net goals in the final two minutes of regulation.
The Lightning (28-13-1, 57 points) limited the Kraken to just five high-danger scoring chances. Through the first two periods, Seattle had just 12 shots on goal.
“They bring it, but I thought today we did a really good job of trying to limit their attack the best we could,” defenseman Ian Cole said. “I mean, they’re good. They got a lot of good players, they come fast, they come hard. They forecheck hard, they turn pucks over. But for the most part, we limited them pretty well.”
Bellemare redirected Cole’s puck on net inside the back post to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead with 1:17 left in the first period. Some hard puck battles against the boards down low in the offensive zone put the puck on Paul’s stick in front of the net, allowing him to give Tampa Bay a two-goal lead at the 6:44 mark in the third.
The Kraken (26-13-4, 56 points) made a push in the third, and defenseman Vince Dunn’s puck toward the net went off Cole’s pants, changed trajectory and went past Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (22 saves) with 9:16 left in regulation.
Then, much like they did two nights ago in their 4-2 win in St. Louis, the Lightning locked down the Kraken.
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“I thought that we did a good job of always outnumbering them in a slot,” Bellemare said. “Even that goal that they scored, technically like it’s because we’re all there. Vasy doesn’t see it. I don’t know if the puck would have gone in if you didn’t touch Colesy. So I would rather have us all there more often and then this kind of thing will happen than we give them a Grade A right in front of the net. If we give them shots from the periphery and our goalie could see them, that’s huge I think.”
After Dunn scored, the Lightning allowed just four shots on goal until Seattle goaltender Philipp Grubauer was pulled for an extra attacker just inside the two-minute mark. The Lightning did not allow a single high-danger scoring opportunity in the third period.
“It’s just about refocusing, right?” Cole said. “When they score, it’s like, ‘OK, great. That’s awesome. It’s still 2-1. We’re still winning the hockey game here. Everyone, let’s just calm down and do our job and ultimately get pucks out.’
“And when they go to pull the goalie and the net’s open, then let’s bury it. Get it done. It’s easier said than done probably. But I think we did a really good job of taking a step back, refocusing and just locking it down for the rest of game.”
The Lightning were able to tack on two empty-net goals — one from Brandon Hagel with 1:39 left and another by Victor Hedman with 44 seconds remaining.
“We didn’t need another one,” Cooper said. “We just needed to prevent them from getting one and it’s not like we sat back but we were feeling pretty good about our offensive game, at least the possession part of it. But it’s all about, are you adding risk to your game or not? And as I told the guys, we don’t need the third one to win. The third one can come on an empty-netter. But let’s get us in a position for that to happen, and fortunately for us, it did.”
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos went scoreless, sending his chase for 500 career goals to Vancouver on Wednesday. His teammates tried to feed him early — he had four of his five shots on goal in the first period — and he was skating with Hedman on his empty-net goal in the final minute, but Kraken forward Matty Beniers blanketed Stamkos, taking away a passing lane.
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.