TAMPA — With defenseman Victor Hedman setting a dynamic early tone, the Lightning landed a first-round knockout of a Western Conference heavyweight Sunday to avoid a Lost Weekend.
In sharp contrast to Saturday night’s first-period doldrums against the Kings, Tampa Bay assumed control from the start en route to a 5-3 victory against Anaheim, which began the day with an NHL-high 75 points.
Two late goals by the Ducks made the game appear close on paper, but the Lightning were in command from the opening faceoff before an announced crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena. Brian Boyle scored twice and Valterri Filppula added a goal and two assists, but it was Hedman’s virtuoso effort at the 2:55 mark that established momentum.
“I saw I had some room, but it’s not something you do every day,’’ said Hedman, who skated around three sitting Ducks before sending a deft back-handed pass to Boyle from behind the net for a 1-0 lead. “That’s the wayI want to play. Yesterday was not the typical Lightning game, so I wanted to set the tone right away.’’
Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan also scored for Tampa Bay while Ben Bishop stopped 25 shots, less than 24 hours after Lightning coach Jon Cooper pulled him with Los Angeles ahead 3-0 after 20 minutes.
“I’m happy Coop went back to me tonight,’’ said Bishop, who allowed goals by Ryan Getzlaf, Sami Vatanen and ex-Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer. “We weren’t happy with yesterday -- that first period was probably one of our worst of the year -- but we played a really good game tonight. It was the complete opposite spectrum from the start of the L.A. game.’’
Nashville rallied past Florida earlier in the day to take over the league lead with 76 points while Tampa Bay (34-16-5) snapped a deadlock with Detroit and moved into sole possession of the top spot in the East with 73 points.
“We all had our eyes on the game last night,’’ said Anaheim winger Kyle Palmieri, “and we saw that L.A. got to a 3-0 lead. We knew what we needed to do in the first period and we just didn’t do it.’’
After Boyle’s first goal, Tampa Bay squandered a two-man advantage for 45 seconds and Bishop turned away Ryan Kesler in front before Filppula pounced on a loose puck in the slot, with Brewer looking on hopelessly in front of goaltender Frederik Andersen.
Kucherov made it 3-0 with only 68 seconds remaining in the opening period, converting a nifty give-and-go with Tyler Johnson for his 20th goal.
Anaheim’s first goal came early in the second period -- and it didn’t come without controversy. Getzlaf, stationed just off the left post, appeared to kick the puck in with his right skate off a centering pass across the crease from Corey Perry.
After a lengthy review, the goal was upheld, but Tampa Bay restored its three-goal cushion 10 minutes later. Ondrej Palat crushed Brewer behind the boards and Boyle swooped in during a goal-mouth scramble for his 12th goal of the season and second of the evening.
In 11 previous career games against Anaheim, Boyle failed to register a point and was minus-6.
Callahan scored on a rebound off a wrister by Steven Stamkos to put Tampa Bay ahead 5-1 at 6:14 of the third period and Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau pulled Andersen midway through the period after a dislodged net toppled on him from behind.
“It was a physical game and a fast game against a really good team,’’ Boyle said. “It’s two points we needed.’’