The worst job in the NHL has to be the person creating game schedules as there are so many moving parts: availability of the arena, dates that games can’t happen, NHL rules of time away, finances for travel, among a myriad of other reasons. In a perfect world, you’d see games against the same team spaced throughout the long season.
Here we are with just 20% of the season gone, and the Canes are playing the Lightning for the third and final time of the year. With these teams so equal, so much for end-of-the-season tenseness that could have happened, as it has in so many past years. With the teams splitting the first 2 games, both played in Florida, the Canes can’t count on the confidence of the 4-0 shutout the last game less than 2 weeks ago as the Bolts’ Andrei Vasilevskiy, arguably the best goalie in the NHL, and forward Nikita Kucherov, possibly the second best player in the world, were out for the last game but in for the rubber game of the series.
Drury’s Beautiful Feed to Noesen
The following line is getting old, but knowing the firepower the Lightning have, the Canes have to be alert on every shift. That they did in the first as they limited the Bolts to just 1 shot on goal, which wasn’t even a challenge for Antti Raanta. The Canes lead the league with the fewest shots allowed, but 1, especially by the Bolts, is simply amazing.
The Canes forechecking was mostly responsible for limiting shots by the Lightning. The Bolts’ top two lines were matched by the Canes’ top 2 D-pairings, with the checking forwards all doing their jobs. It was great teamwork all around, possibly their best defensive period of the season. It was the Canes’ 4th line that broke the ice to put the Canes up 1-0 late in the period. Stefan Noesen started the play by bringing the puck into the Bolts’ end along the near boards, went behind the net, rimming the puck up to Brent Burns on the right point.
Burnsie gave a nice touch pass to Michael Bunting along the far half boards, quickly passing to Jack Drury camped out behind the net. On a set play, Drury snagged the puck sending a sweet saucer backhand pass to Noesen all alone on the corner of the crease who whacked the puck up high for his 5th goal of the season.
3 Penalties, 3 Shots, 3 Goals, Oh My
Jon Cooper is one of the best coaches in the league for a reason. No idea what he did or said during the first intermission, but whatever it was worked. It worked so well it should be patented. A combination of one of the Canes’ best periods to one of their worst, along with one of the Bolts’ worst periods to one of their best, was the turning point of the game.
Call it a lack of discipline or how the Lightning were able to get under the Canes’ skin, but from the moment that period started, things looked completely different. Andrei Svechnikov was the only Canes in the offensive zone trying to make things happen when being double-teamed, lost the puck. In an extra effort to regain control, he stretched his stick, hitting Luke Glendening’s skates, resulting in a tripping penalty. Initially, the Canes’ man-down units looked good, but once it turned, it turned ugly. Steve Stamkos is still an amazing player and has the lethal shot he’s had for 15 years.
After a perfect setup by Brayden Point, Stamkos blasted a slap shot into the upper corner that no goalie would have stopped. Jesperi Kotkaniemi lost an edge, sliding on the ice towards Anthony Cirelli. Cirelli sold the goods of ‘trying’ to jump over KK but went down as he tried, with the refs calling a tripping penalty. It was tripping by the rule book but my 7-year-old grandson has a portion of practice in jumping over someone sprawled on the ice.
Late in the powerplay after the Canes couldn’t clear the puck, Brandon Hagel made a hard cross-ice pass to Kucherov all alone inside the far circle who one-timed a hard shot for the second powerplay goal. On the ensuing faceoff, KK got called for a double minor clipping Cole Koepke up high. It took all of 5 seconds for Point to snap one in past Rants.
3 penalties, 3 shots, 3 goals, none of which were on Rants. Late in the period, the Canes had some hope on a powerplay. Kotkaniemi lost the faceoff, but Svech was able to muscle his way to the puck, slid the puck up high to Bunting who blasted it from 60’ out to shorten the deficit to one goal with just 3 seconds gone in the penalty.
Can’t Be: 5 Goals on 7 Shots? Unfortunately, Yes.
As good as the first period was for the Canes, it was equally as bad in the third. Tampa Bay doesn’t have back-to-back Stanley Cups a few years ago by luck. They’re as deep a team as anyone. Now that 2 of their many stars are back in the lineup, they have to be considered a viable team to go deep in the playoffs. The best thing the Canes and Caniacs can do is flush the third period, and despite how good that first period was, flush the whole game.
It’s not Canes hockey and certainly not how Rod Brind’Amour coaches nor wants to see what goes on the ice representing the organization. The official stats show the Lightning put 7 shots on net in the third with 5 getting past Raanta. I cannot recall ever seeing a game where the save percentage for a goalie staying in the whole game was under .500. This game registered at .429, which is mind-bending.
This is so unbelievable considering this defense and Rants’ abilities. Again, credit the Bolts and the power they possess up front. To toss salt on the very open wound, after Dmitry Orlov got called for holding late in the period, Cooper sent out the players with 2 goals for the opportunity for a hat trick, and Point obliged by putting in a wrister from 20’ out as the Canes got caught flat-footed during a transition. At the 19:30 point in the game temper flared, with 26 minutes in penalties given for just 3 players. The result of the game stings but flush it and forget it.
Maybe it’s a good thing about the schedule after all. The next game is a matinee at 5 on Sunday against the Blue Jackets who are still trying to find their identity this season. Be there!