Perhaps the biggest sign that a team has entered its own class in the NHL is that it can play or do anything to win. Whatever you ask them, they have the answer. Some pretenders like Hurricanes, once you get rid of their favorite style – throw it away in Cannes, win a fast fourcheck, get a puck to the point and shoot – they don’t have a Plan B. It was. The problem with Capitals over the years is that once you give them every run on your own net, they can’t build much.
Lightning is showing in their Eastern Conference finals that they can have Plan B or Plan C when they need it. It is still one of the more skilled teams in the league, having weapons on three lines while being completely healthy (which they are no longer). In previous Cup runs, they had to negotiate with teams like the Islanders, Stars and Canadians, who knew they could not match Bolt in the shootouts, and they were trying to hold on until a goalless draw. And hopefully get a bounce or power play to survive the whole game.
In the first two games against the Rangers in New York, Lightning appeared… good, slow. Which, of course, made the video an overnight sensation. But what they can do is play in a straight line very quickly when teams overcame in the offensive zone. The Rangers were exiting their zone and starting stretch passes to the left and right from the neutral zone and entering the Tampa zone all the time in 3-on-2 and 4-on-3. Lightning can’t really come close. And the Rangers are the first team in this Lightning Run to have a Lightning Defender slower, outside of Victor Headman and Mikhail Surgachev. And Sergeyev could easily lose defensively. Lightning had to pay a heavy penalty for constantly being behind the Rangers, and we know that the Rangers have become aware of their power play.
You can’t win two cups in a row without the ability to change gears and recognize what’s in front of you. The Rangers have to struggle if they are not given space, as they do not have enough players to make their own shots. So Lightning called out to Admiral Akbar: “This is a trap!”
In both games 3 and 4, in each of the first two seasons, Lightning is committed to cutting the space that the Rangers were gaining in the first two games of the series. A forechecker, at least four people in the neutral zone, who lined up for the Rangers on Saturday afternoon from the runway to Giffy Lube. Here are some examples from last night of the first two periods:
Even Mark Messier, who normally sleeps in the ESPN intermission studio, couldn’t miss it, perhaps best explaining:
The numbers bear it out. Of course, the Rangers beat Lightning last night, 22-15 in the first two seasons. But very little if any of those 22 shots are significant. The Rangers scored just 1.12 goals in 40 minutes, less than what Lightning had done with their 15 shots at 5-on-5. This was the case in Game 3, where the Rangers managed to manage just over 1.00 xG in the first two periods, although Lightning was more aggressive and did not fall into their trap on Tuesday night.
And the Rangers don’t have trap-busters or as many as you might think. Adam Fox excels at power play or when set to equal power in the offensive zone, but he’s not the type to weave through three defenders in the neutral zone. The key is not Capricorn. This represents a 36 percent share of Fox’s expected goals in Game 4. Only K’Andre Miller seemed to be trying to break the trap, and that didn’t work out very well as he only got 30 percent marks in xG%.
Lightning throttling back and Jack Lemaire’s second bonus is that they don’t chase nearly as much, which means they’re not in the position to take almost as many penalties, meaning the Rangers can’t get the power. Play that lightning is not able to coral. Rangers did not get a man-advantage till 3 last night.
But the luminosity of the lightning is such that when you expect them to lag further behind, taking the lead in the 3rd period, they really hit the gas. They had to go into Game 3 because they were trailing, but they went well for them, scoring twice. So they liked it so much that they tried it again in the last 20 of last night, accumulating 16 shots, more than they had collected in the first two periods. He had 19 attempts at 5-on-5 and 0.94 xG, more than one of the first two periods. And it’s with a two-goal lead. Rangers could not get out of their zone. To be fair, the Rangers saw a lot in 3:
Three forecheckers, no time to breathe, turnover incoming. When you adjust for the score, Lightning has 75 percent of both the effort and the expected goal in the 3rd.