CHICAGO — The music was thumping again in the Lightning locker room following their 4-2 win over the Blackhawks Thursday night at the United Center. They snapped their three-game losing streak and put one of their toughest weeks in recent memory in the rear-view mirror.
The Lightning fell behind for the seventh time in their past nine games, but Brayden Point’s second-period equalizer ended their 146-minute, 50-second scoring drought that stretched over parts of four games.
Chicago’s Corey Perry tied the score at 2 just 2:09 into third, capitalizing on a 2-on-1 that was created by a Nikita Kucherov turnover in the offensive zone. But Tampa Bay allowed just one shot on goal after that, and its offensive persistence paid off when Erik Cernak’s shot hit off the end boards and right to Victor Hedman at the side of the net for the game-winner.
“It’s tough when you lose two games in a row and not score,” Point said. “It’s uncommon for our group. And I think, you know, we just had to dig down and bear down and play hard and, you know, kind of create our breaks.”
Here are four reasons why the Lightning were able to get out of their funk in Chicago:
They finally had a response after falling behind
It had been a week since the Lightning scored, and it felt like an eternity on the bench. They could have fallen back into a rut after going down 1-0 after one period, but when Point redirected Hedman’s pass to the front of the net past goaltender Petr Mrazek, Tampa Bay not only ended its drought, it stopped the snowball effect that had buried it the previous two games.
“I think things changed for us,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the Point goal. “We just kept coming. And eventually when you do that and you don’t sacrifice your end of the ice, then good things will happen.”
They kept the puck away from Connor Bedard
The Lightning foiled ESPN+’s Bedard hypefest by shutting down the 18-year-old phenom, holding him to just one shot on goal and none in 5-on-5 play. After watching Bedard take over last week’s game in Tampa with two goals and two assists, the Lightning kept the puck away from him and kept him and his linemates hemmed in their own end.
Bedard’s been known to stay on the ice for lengthy shifts, and on Hedman’s go-ahead goal the Lightning had Bedard’s line pinned back by throwing pucks at the net, winning the retrieval game and cycling the puck. Hedman’s goal ended a 57-second shift for Bedard. You frustrate great players by keeping the puck off their stick. You tire them out by making them chase it.
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They had lots of offensive zone time
The Lightning entered the night minus-13 in the third period and already had as many losses (three) when leading after two periods as they had all of last season. The Kucherov turnover — he faked a slap shot from inside the offensive blue line and made a bad pass that was picked off by Perry — was the kind of costly mistake Tampa Bay has been making too much lately.
But after that play, the Lightning dominated, outshooting the Blackhawks 9-2 in the third period.
“Obviously, giving up that second goal, with the way things have been going the last few games it’s easy to take a step back,” Hedman said. “But I thought we took over the game once again after that and were able to get some zone time, and we capitalized.”
A Lightning team that had allowed nearly 33 shots a game yielded just 15, fewest since Dec. 31, 2014. The two shots in the third were the least they’ve allowed in a period since the first period of the season (Oct. 10 vs. Nashville). Tampa Bay hadn’t allowed fewer than 23 shots in a game all season before Thursday.
The stars led the way
Point had a hat trick earlier this month, but Thursday might have been his best game of the season. He not only had a goal, two assists and a season-high six shots on goal, he was in the middle of every big play for the Lightning. For the first time in a long time, he and Kucherov jelled together as they have for so long.
Hedman was terrific with two points, and Sergachev scored his first goal of the season and had a plus rating (plus-2) for the first time in nine games. More importantly, those players pushed the pace at both ends of the ice. When they do that, the rest of the team tends to follow.
“I think (Thursday) we did a good job not forcing too many plays,” Point said. “Just kind of controlling that pressure and then waiting for our looks. I think that’s kind of why we got the result with the win.”
The big guns stepped up in the absence of Anthony Cirelli for nearly two periods after he took a puck to his upper body. At one point the Lightning were playing even-strength hockey with just 10 forwards, with Mikey Eyssimont in the box for a five-minute fighting major.
But this was a step forward in 5-on-5 play, during which the Lightning entered the night having allowed 44 goals, second-most in the league. They outscored the Blackhawks 2-1 in 5-on-5 situations, with goals from Sergachev and Hedman.
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