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Fourth Line Fuels Furious Comeback over Wings

December 5, 2018, 9:57 AM ET [3 Comments]
Sam Hitchcock
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
When you meditate on what occurred, it is quite remarkable. Last night against Detroit—on the road for the second game of a back-to-back with Brayden Point offering zero offense and Nikita Kucherov contributing zero goals, and a goaltender (who played for your opponent’s AHL affiliate in 2016-17) playing his first game ever in the NHL and allowing five goals, and though they were trailing by two goals in the third period—the Lightning fought back and won. When the Lightning shine, the viewer is deprived of a competitive contest as the lead balloons to a three- or four-goal margin. But when they struggle, that’s when Tampa Bay’s true makeup sparkles.

A team’s style of play is a reflection of its personality. The Lightning are self-assured and unwavering in their judgment. The most obvious indication of their overweening swagger is how aggressively Tampa Bay’s defensemen station themselves deep in the offensive zone. The F3’s response is not to retreat but to dig in. Last night, there were multiple instances when the Lightning had four skaters below the circles. They are so confident of their speed that they can blitz the slot and not get burned.

Uncompromising speed defines their third and fourth lines too. The Lightning fell behind 2-0 early, and a few of their top-six players looked tired. Coach Jon Cooper was receiving so little from the Point line that he scrambled the lines starting at the end of the first period, mixing and matching with the hopes of finding a spark.

But it didn’t matter, because the fourth line – comprised of Mathieu Joseph, Cedric Paquette, and Ryan Callahan – catalyzed all five regulation-time goals. The Red Wings couldn’t handle Joseph’s speed, and what he once again demonstrated last night is that he has playmaking ability once he tracks down the puck. That bespeaks a future in the top six, making Joseph another delightful diamond-in-the-rough discovery for the Lightning’s scouting department.

Joseph’s first impact of the game was the outcome of his acceleration. He tried to catch a pass in his skates from Ryan Callahan but the puck sputtered ahead, forcing him to dash forward before Detroit could control it. Right as the puck approached goaltender Jimmy Howard, Howard tried to pokecheck it, but Joseph’s stab at the puck shoveled it over Howard’s shoulder. It was a brilliant play by Joseph that displayed ingenuity and timing.

With Joseph, it is not just his speed in foot races, but his agility to commandeer the puck in a scoring area. With the Lightning on the penalty kill and trailing by a goal, Joseph showed power and grace against Mike Green. He beat Green to the puck, then sharply spun toward the net and had the presence of mind to kick the puck forward toward the slot. Enter Paquette, who snatched up the puck and buried it.

The Lightning are generating nearly four goals a game, and their ability to accept generous donations from their fourth liners is a big reason why.

But Joseph wasn’t the only fourth liner who starred last night. Callahan’s stretch pass that sprang Steven Stamkos, who snuck behind the Red Wings’ defense on the tricky second-period line change, was a thing of beauty.

On the fourth Lightning goal, it was Callahan who led the entry, and it was Paquette who engaged as the F1. Most importantly, it was Callahan who would retreat high as the F3. This allowed J.T. Miller and Mikhail Sergachev to work a give-and-go that resulted in Miller rocketing a one-timer in the left corner. The seam that opened up for Sergachev to Miller was partially because Callahan tugged the defense left, exposing the shooting lane on the right side.

As you can see, there were three Red Wings players ready to get in the shooting lane, but Paquette and Braydon Coburn’s jockeying in front cleared out the path to the net. Ironically, it was Detroit’s late-rotating Luke Glendening whose stick would get a piece of the puck that changed its course, and the game.

The Lightning keep winning and their contributions are varied. When the reach of power is so diffuse, it makes containment nearly impossible. Just ask the Red Wings.
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