In this week’s extra practice days, the Lightning focused on having better puck possession and playing more directly to create more offense and fewer scoring opportunities for their opponent. That was before they knew they’d have to travel to Carolina early Saturday to play the Hurricanes that night in Raleigh, N.C.
Carolina was going to be Tampa Bay’s next opponent regardless. But after two games in Dallas were postponed this week, the league moved a game at Carolina to Saturday night, giving the Lightning four straight games against the fleet-skating Hurricanes.
The Lightning knew Carolina would be relentless chasing the puck and use its speed to bunch the middle and limit scoring opportunities. Still, Tampa Bay struggled to create offensive opportunities.
And all of a sudden, the reigning Stanley Cup champions are struggling, losing three of their last four games following a 4-0 loss to the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
The turnover issues that plagued the Lightning (10-4-1) in two losses to the Panthers last week resurfaced, as Carolina’s first three goals came after Tampa Bay lost the puck.
All in all, it was a frustrating night for the Lightning, who were suffocated by a fast and relentless Carolina team. The Hurricanes put pressure on the puck of whichever Lightning stick it was on.
Unable to find space to make plays, the Tampa Bay defensemen were taken out of their offensive game. The Lightning struggled to maintain possession through the neutral zone. Carolina collapsed on its own net, and on the rare occasions the Lightning had clear shots on net, they rarely were able to retrieve the puck.
The Lightning lost their first meeting with Carolina 1-0 in overtime, so in six regulation periods, Tampa Bay has yet to score a goal.
The game opened with few scoring chances for either team through the first period, but the ice opened up in the second. Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy kept Tampa Bay in the game by stopping multiple odd-man rushes in the second period.
The Hurricanes ‘first goal was a fluky one. A puck that rimmed out behind the Lightning goal skipped over defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s stick, giving Martin Necas possession at the point.
Necas put the puck on the goal, and Nino Niederreiter’s deflection hit off Lightning forward Alex Killorn and toward the net. It was forced just inside the post by Vincent Trocheck 2:19 into the second period.
Brayden Point, who had two of the Lightning’s best scoring opportunities in the period, made a costly puck-handling mistake, losing the puck after getting stuck against the boards in the defensive zone.
With two Hurricanes converging, Point tried to pass the puck back, but it deflected out to a wide open Sebastian Aho, who maintained possession through Vasilevskiy’s stick poke and beat him far post.
The Lightning didn’t help Vasilevskiy in the second. On Tampa Bay’s first power play, a turnover by Victor Hedman gave the Hurricanes a 3-on-2 rush, but Vasilevskiy turned away Brock McGinn’s shot. Vasilevskiy also stopped Niederreiter on a breakaway later in the period.
Former Lightning center Cedric Paquette, just acquired in a trade with Ottawa last week, provided Carolina with a three-goal cushion, crashing the net with a shot from the slot on a rebound 3:12 into the third period.
Andrei Svechnikov added an empty-net goal for the Hurricanes in the closing minutes.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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