The Lightning went into the American Airlines Center in Dallas to take on a Stars team that is one of the hardest working, energized groups in the league. Looking for their second straight victory, the Lightning took to the ice knowing what they had to do. They played with pride, emotion and strength for a good portion of the game. It was enough to lead the group to victory. With that said, the game was not without its flaws. Here’s my post-game report.
The First Period
After a sluggish start for both teams, the Lightning started to warm up and develop some nice offensive pressure. That hustle and hard-work turned into a power-play for the Lightning. Despite not being able to score, fans have got to be happy with the zone time and the chances that were developed. I’m a huge fan of having the 5 forward setup. This group has too much talent up front and not enough on the back end to put a 3/2 split out there on the first unit. Both Stamkos and Purcell were stopped on Grade-A chances on the first power-play. Over time, I think that this group of guys will start to develop chemistry that can only work wonders for the Bolts. When the penalty clock got down to zero, you could hear all six fans at the American Airlines Center let out a huge sigh of relief. (Sorry, Stars fans, I had to…)
The Lightning continued to dominate the play with a great forecheck, solid defense and an all-around workman-like effort. That effort paid off when the Lightning were rewarded with their second power-play of the period. Once again the 5 forward unit went to work. It’s been quite some time since a Lightning PP unit has done what that group is doing. They are moving the puck with such confidence. Kari Lehtonen absolutely robbed the Lightning on multiple occasions.
Speaking of Kari Lehtonen, let’s talk about goaltending right now. Think about the Grade-A offensive chances the Lightning had in the first period. The confidence the Stars draw from his stellar play is so obvious. How does this relate to the Lightning? Well, it just goes to show what solid goaltending can do for a team. Imagine if the Bolts got that kind of goaltending with a solid effort like we saw against the Bruins. The standings would look VERY different than they do right now.
Towards the end of the period, Brett Connolly took a penalty to send the Stars to the PP. As I watched Connolly skate towards the box, I couldn’t help but think about the horrific possibility of a Stars goal. Thankfully, the Lightning killed off the Connolly penalty like experts. The Stars didn’t even manage to get a shot on goal.
Thanks to the momentum of the killed penalty, the Lightning managed to get one by Lehtonen. Marty St. Louis made an absolutely beautiful back pass to an unguarded Teddy Purcell in the slot. He had all the time in the world to make a slick move and deposit the puck past Lehtonen for his 10th of the season. After a great start, that’s exactly what the Bolts needed.
Overall, the first period was one to remember. The Lightning outshot the Stars 13-5 and dominated in every other facet of the game. That’s the kind of play this team is going to need if they want to get into the playoffs. For the player of the period honor, I’ve got to give it to Teddy Purcell. Other than scoring the goal, he played a really solid first frame. He moved the puck well, created offense, and managed the defensive side of the game in style.
Bolts Player of the Period: Teddy Purcell
The Second Period
The confidence established in the first period carried over to start the second. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. A confident group is a patient group. The offensive patience shown by the Lightning (specifically Vinny and Purcell) was absolutely special to watch. It’s not as though the Bolts got casual or anything of that sort. The Bolts just came out and played with confidence that was so unbelievably apparent.
It wasn’t long before the Stars were given their gift from the hockey gods in the form of a power-play. Dominic Moore took a stupid penalty in the offensive zone to give the Stars another PP chance. Thankfully, the Bolts were able kill off the penalty without any real scary moments. It’s amazing how much of a difference special teams can make in this league. If the team isn’t going to score on the power-play, it should make sure that the penalties it takes are killed off. That’s something that the Lightning have been much better of as of late. Hopefully the positive trend continues.
For this type of game, I was pretty surprised to see so much emotion arise on both sides at the end of the second period. We had a fight, lots of jostling and some verbal unpleasantries. For two teams that don’t get together that often, it was an interesting turn of events that I was not expecting. Thankfully, the Lightning managed to keep calm through it all and get out of the period holding that 1-0 lead.
When I think about players who impressed in the second period, Dana Tyrell comes to mind. I thought that he and Trevor Smith really worked well together on the forecheck. They gave the Stars fits at both ends of the ice. Over the last few games, Tyrell has really established himself as a speed demon with a little bit of edge. I love the guy and I hope he can keep up this tough style of play down the stretch.
Despite not being as solid as the first, the second period was still well played. Garon was tested a little more than he was in the first, but he was incredibly solid. The offense continued to fire on all cylinders, despite not adding the lead. All that said, a lot of the credit for the success through the first two periods has to go to the defense. Every D-man did a great job of cutting down angles and limiting the Stars’ ability to get to the slot.
Bolts Player of the Period: Dana Tyrell
The Third Period
I mentioned that the Lightning’s second period was not as strong as their first. Well, the start of the third compiled those problems. Very quickly, the Stars utilized a great transition play to put the puck up ice to Eriksson and Wandell. The puck went off Wandell’s skate and made its way by Garon. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but it counted. At 1-1, I got the feeling that the Lightning were going to have to focus on the mental game much more than the physical one.
When you think about the mental game, what comes to mind? It’s the ability to fight back after a goal, to never give up and to increase the energy level in a tight game. Well, it didn’t take long for the Lightning to do all those things. Teddy Purcell made a great toe-drag move to the middle to puck the backhand shot past Lehtonen for his second of the night and 11th of the season. The assists on the play were credited to Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier. It’s nice to see that combo making waves again with both guys playing some real nice hockey right now. As much as we all harp on Vinny for his contract, he’s been a really solid player for us this season. Is he worth the money? No, he’s not. Is he still one of the more effective players in the league? I think so. Let me put it this way: What idiot would turn down $85million?
The Stars were once again given a chance to tie the game when Ryan Malone took a cross-checking penalty early in the third. Now, I don’t want to speculate here, but I have to agree with Boucher and Malone when I say that Fiddler may have sold that call quite a bit. From the replays, I can clearly see Fiddler turn his back on the play. Not only that, but it doesn’t appear as though Malone touches him with much force or recklessness. Though once again, the Lightning were able to kill of the penalty.
After the Lightning’s second goal, the tension in the AAC went way up. The Stars’ energy level skyrocketed to a point that was really scary to watch. I’m absolutely shocked that the Stars weren’t able to pot one in the third with the way they were playing. They were hard on the puck, strong on the forecheck and doing everything else that has made them successful this season. Essentially, the Stars did what the Lightning did for the first period and a half.
Despite some tense moments, the Lightning were able to close out the victory. With two wins in a row, the Lightning will have to take a good look at the standings and determine where they fit in going down the stretch. After beating the Bruins and Stars, it’s pretty obvious that this group can compete with the best, the question is always consistency. The Lightning really aren’t that far back in the race when you consider games in hand and the schedule that they have moving forward. The next week or so will be incredibly telling as to whether or not this team can make the playoffs. Would you rather lose in the first round of the playoffs, or end up with a top-5 draft pick?
Bolts Player of the Period: Mathieu Garon
The Ben Bishop Story
A frequent reader, and commenter, AlexF sent me a tweet regarding Ben Bishop. For those of you who don’t know the story, Bob McKenzie of TSN reported that the Lightning may have interest in the goaltender currently playing in the St. Louis Blues system. McKenzie went on to describe his contract status and his size (both very attractive qualities). Alex asked me to give my take on the situation. Here it is:
Personally, I’m not a fan of Bishop. When I look at a goalie with very little NHL experience, I want to see stellar stats throughout his minor league career. Consider for a second that his career stats are nothing special (.893 SV% and a 2.94GAA). Sure he’s 6’7”, but that doesn’t mean much if he can’t stop the puck any better than Garon and Roloson can at this point. If I’m Steve Yzerman, I’m looking for a goaltender who is proven at every level he’s ever played at. Bishop is not that guy.
A Potential Trade Partner?
With the deadline fast approaching, it’s important to consider all the possibilities here. Darren Dreger of TSN has reported that he believes Steve Yzerman will be one of the busier GMs on deadline day, and I can’t say that I disagree; there is going to be a lot going on. It’s no secret that the Lightning are looking for defensemen and the Leafs are looking for forwards with size. Enter, Ryan Malone. The Leafs have so many good, solid, young defensemen that could be potential targets in a trade for Malone. Personally, I’m a big fan of Cody Franson. He hasn’t really had a great shot in Toronto but, after seeing what he did in Nashville as a Predator, I do believe he has a great future in the National Hockey League. In the comment section, make your offers to the Leafs for a D-man! I look forward to reading them.
The Lightning are off to take on the Phoenix Coyotes tomorrow night. It should be a very interesting tilt against a team that has surprised many this year. I’ll be back tomorrow with a quick pre-game for that one and then my usual post-game remarks. For those of you who were awaiting blogs over the last couple of days, I do apologize. It wasn’t a great week health wise and it culminated yesterday with a trip to the emergency room. I’m on the road to recovery so things should be back to normal soon.
Thanks so much for reading, folks!
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