Lightning come up big at winning time.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 31 shots for the victory. He got fooled badly on Jordan's wraparound goal, but more than made up for it with a handful of amazing situational saves with under 3 minutes to go to preserve the win, punctuated by a rock solid right pad robbery in tight on Skinner with everything on the line. He was the difference in the game tonight, in my opinion.
11:10 Nordstrom(7). (J. Staal, Slavin)(SH)
4:41 TB Brown(8), (Paquette, Sustr)
8:27 TB Callahan(7), (Stamkos, Nesterov)
12:59 CAR Jordan(1), (Skinner, Rask)
14:17 TB Stamkos(25), (Johnson, Marchessault)(PP)
19:50 TB Callahan(8), (Palat, Paquette)(EN)
Steven Stamkos was the game's first star. How in the blue hell Bishop didn't get a star is worthy of a Congressional investigation.
Heading into the waning days of the month of February, the Lightning seem to recognize they're getting into the winning time of the season. In the last 48 hours, I think you're starting to see a level of focus up and down the lineup that hasn't quite been there all season. It's like they realized the season was on the line and they only barely slipped the noose against Winnipeg. The power play is still a hot mess, having allowed a SH goal in three straight games, but it produced the winner when the game was in the balance. Even better, you're starting to see the vets start to carry their weight more consistently with Callahan, in particular, finding the scoresheet again tonight. It's nice to have all the young guys like Kucherov and Palat producing, but the team will go as far as the likes of Stamkos, Callahan, and Filppula can take them by balancing out the scoring and giving them multiple lines to make teams worry about.
With one game left to go in this 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning have earned 10 of 18 points. That means a win against Arizona on Tuesday night will clinch a successful segment and keep them on track for the playoffs despite their stumbles early in this 10-game set. That would be a huge accomplishment.
Jonathan Marchessault had a helper and was -1 with 4 hits in 17:30. He was also 33% on 6 draws. With Nikita Kucherov a surprise injury scratch, Marchessault went up on the top line with Palat and Johnson and he didn't look out of place. True, he made a poor play or two, including on the Jordan goal, but he figured mightily in the game winner and several other prime scoring chances.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and 2 penalty minutes with 3 hits and 1 blocked shot in 14:23. He was a train wreck in the turnover department early in the game, but thankfully settled down as things wore on and he actually got involved physically with a few good pops. All that said... get well soon Jason Garrison.
Vengeance of the Blind Squirrel
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 39 shots for the victory.
9:08 TB Stralman(9), (Namestnikov, Marchessault)
11:20 TB Stamkos(24), (Killorn, Carle)
3:14 TB Carle(1), (unassisted)
5:35 PIT Kuhnhackl(1), (unassisted)(SH)
11:53 TB Johnson(9), (Palat, Marchessault)
16:01 PIT Wilson(2), (Rust, Letang)
Matt Carle was the game's first star! Yes, Matt Carle. I referred to the fable of the blind squirrel in the last game after Carle had a solid +2 night. Today, I can't dismiss Carle's game so easily. Mind you, it'll take a lot more games like that to justify Carle's salary, but you celebrate the good games Carle has on the rare occasions they come. In lesser news, Steven Stamkos was the game's second star and scored his 300th career NHL goal. Yawn.
Kudos to the Lightning for responding well to their near debacle against Winnipeg. They got the advantage today with the spot start of Pittsburgh's backup, and they jumped all over Zatkoff in the First Period and made sure they got the knockout early in the Second Period when they established the 3 goal advantage.
The win is gigantic. Tampa Bay jumped to 2nd in the Atlantic and opened a 3 point lead on the last team out of the Wild Card with the win. They also kept hope alive they might be able to run the table for the rest of this 10-game segment of the season and get back on track to make the playoffs comfortably.
Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 9:27.
Jonathan Marchessault had a pair of helpers and was +2 with 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:08. Someone's making the case to be a regular in the lineup and make Condra a semi-permanent scratch.
Lightning manage to snatch their season from the jaws of an epic collapse.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 5 goals on 41 shots before stopping 4 of 5 in the penalty shot session for the SO win. I thought he was generally good on first shots in this game, but looked a little out of sorts on second opportunities. He made several key situational saves in Overtime to help keep the team alive. In the Shootout, I tend to have a lot of faith with Vasiy in net because he does tend to be so strong facing down first opportunities.
15:38 TB Hedman(6), (Brown)
17:52 TB Marchessault(7), (Killorn)
19:39 TB Stamkos(23), (Callahan, Sustr)
13:45 WPG Myers(6), (Peluso, Lowry)
2:00 TB Killorn(10), (Callahan)
6:01 WPG Shiefele(13), (Trouba)(PP)
7:33 WPG Ladd(14), (Armia)(SH)
12:44 WPG Ladd(15), (Schiefele)
14:40 WPG Perrault(9), (Wheeler, Byfuglien)
15:04 TB Kucherov(24), (unassisted)
TB- Callahan, Stamkos
The Lightning ultimately got the result they needed out of tonight's game, but they hardly cloaked themselves in glory doing so. True, they opportunistically built a pair of 3 goals leads, including the all-important 3 goal lead in the Third Period, despite being on the wrong end of a shot disparity all night. That should've been enough, even despite a very poor power play night that included a blown Second Period 5-on-3 and a blown Overtime 4-on-3 opportunity. Only bad teams blow 3 goals leads in the Third Period, right? Well, the Lightning very nearly lost the game allowing 4 straight before a great individual effort shooting off the rush by Kucherov may have saved the season. Lucky, lucky, lucky, too. Lucky Winnipeg looks completely disorganized defensively and lucky Ondrej Pavelec brought his bullfighting cape to the crease tonight. The Lightning defense, in particular, looked like the completely took their foot off the gas in the Third Period with some very weak work leading to a pair of goals where they were manhandled physically by the bigger Jets. Was that because the Jets started running at the Lightning after Anton Stralman nearly beheaded Bryan Little on a neutral zone hit late in the Second Period? Hard to say. I do know this: I really hope Stralman doesn't face discipline for that head shot because I do not want to watch this team attempt to win a game with both he and Garrison unavailable.
Bottom line: I didn't see anything tonight that developed a wellspring of trust in this team. They still look to be teetering on the edge of disaster.
If any Matt Carle apologists trumpet his +2 to you tonight, remind them of the fable of the blind squirrel. Callahan, on the other hand, had a pair of nice finishes in regulation and OT, as if trying to earn his way out of membership in the imaginary Dead Money Trio. We shall see.
Slater Koekkoek was +1 with 2 penalty minutes and 1 shot in 7:59. Winnipeg's a rough matchup for a rookie because of their combination of size/speed. He didn't make any huge mistakes, but he also didn't get the amount of open ice he gets against other teams to utilize his skating ability. Mind you, had the Lightning not decided to implode in the Third Period, there might've been a lot of good developmental garbage time for Slater to eat up, but it was not to be. Lost opportunities.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 in 9:03. Winnipeg's a really bad matchup for Nikita. That's all I'll say.
If the goat horns fit, make him wear them.
Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 31 shots for the loss. Partial breakaways and completely uncovered guys in the slot. Not his fault.
17:51 TB Callahan(6), (Killorn, Sustr)
1:43 SJ Ward(16), (Vlasic, Nieto)
6:34 SJ Pavelski(26), (Thornton, Hertl)
8:46 TB Paquette(3), (Brown)
1:17 SJ Nieto(8), (Marleau, Ward)
18:17 SJ Karlsson(7), (Thornton)
Ryan Callahan was the game's third star. He did, after all, score his second goal in the last 42 or 43 games, so it was a big deal. Between Matt Carle's -3 in 11:07 of ice time and Val Filppula's rally-stifling late game penalty, it was truly a banner night for the Dead Money Trio. $17.9 million in combined salary for that trio this season, and most of it is money that's absolutely being stolen from the organization.
Matt Carle is not an NHL defenseman anymore, and no team in the league is going to take him in a trade. It's time for Yzerman to suck it up and either send him to Syracuse or send him home. It's Carle's choice, but he can't be in the lineup anymore. He's killing the team. Killing them. He was -3 tonight, and he earned that -3 by playing a pretty significant hand in all 3 goals against. The most important of the three was an ill-advised whiff of a pinch on the eventual GWG. Bottom line, it's time for the Lightning to cut their losses and to use the ice time they've been wasting on Carle to give Slater Koekkoek NHL seasoning for the future.
Tonight's loss puts the Lightning back in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs. After getting 18 points in the last 10-game segment of the season, the team had finally worked its way back onto a solid playoff pace. Now, unless they go on a 4 game winning streak, they'll be behind the 8-ball by the end of this 10-game segment of the season and in the unenviable position of having to make up ground when the calendar rolls over into March. That's exactly where a team doesn't want to be.
Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot in 7:58. He generated two good scoring chances in his limited ice time and his skating is just too good an asset to hold out of the lineup for someone like Matt Carle.
Jonathan Marchessault had 2 penalty minutes, 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 8:34. He played inspired high-energy hockey in limited ice time. But, he also took an offensive zone penalty, so I expect him to be flogged by Cooper and press-boxed for another 9 games.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 1 hit in 15:39. It was a quiet night where he didn't make any Carle-esque mistakes at the offensive blueline.
Lightning back at a crossroads after horrible road trip.
Ben Bishop allowed 4 goals on 27 shots for the loss. It's a bad stat line, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The defensive effort in front of Bishop tonight was putrid.
5:56 MTL Gallagher (14), (Plekanec)
0:40 TB Filppula (7), (Hedman)
6:40 MTL Plekanec (11), (Gallagher, Barberio)
19:52 MTL Smith-Pelly (5), (Subban, Eller)
6:17 MTL Plekanec (12), (Galchenyuk, Emelin)
9:03 TB Hedman (5), (Filppula, Callahan)
The effort was better tonight, and with some luck the Lightning might've gotten some points out of the game. They did generate a ton of shots and chances and they did hit three posts. So, this wasn't a total disaster. But, honestly, they got plenty of chances in Ottawa, too. That's not the issue. The issue is you're not seeing the intense focus in all three zones and the attention to detail you saw in the big 11-game stretch the Lightning had. Tonight you had a goal where Nesterov made a poor decision to try to shoot through a guy that led to an odd-man rush and a goal. You saw a faceoff loss eventually lead to a goal. You saw Alex Killorn fall down in defensive coverage and a goal. And then you saw another odd man rush with the trailer getting the goal. It's self-inflicted wounds. It's not applying the same back pressure from the forwards. It's about losing faceoffs. It's about losing your check in the defensive zone. In short, it's about getting preoccupied with offense and the grim reality that when you don't mind the details on defense you have the puck less and you end up scoring less goals anyway. That's what happened tonight, to a degree.
Time to get a little regroup, and head this 2 game losing streak off at the pass. As heavy a lift as it took for the Lightning to get themselves back into the playoff picture, they can't afford to relax and lose focus and blow it so quickly.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 2 hits in 10:45. It's just really hard for him to contribute as a fourth liner with spot power play duty. He doesn't get into the flow any and that makes it hard to produce offense.
Nikita Nesterov was -2 with 1 blocked shot in 16:30. His lone shot attempt was the one that was blocked leading to Montreal's opening goal.
Let loose the kittens!
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 30 shots he faced for the shutout victory. He didn't have much work early, and was kicking some long rebounds out in the First and Second Period, but he got progressively stronger as the game wore on. He positively stood on his head in the Third Period to secure the 2 points for his team. He was much, much better positionally compared to his previous 2-3 outings.
4:38 TB Stamkos (21), (Stralman, Filppula)(PP)
Vasilevskiy and Steven Stamkos were the game's first and third stars.
The first 15 minutes of this game were an absolutely clinic by the Lightning as they outshot Toronto 16-1 and outscored them 1-0. They could've easily run the Leafs out of the barn from the word jump were it not for a really strong effort by Jonathan Bernier. Things degraded from there for the Lightning, who were less assertive shooting the puck in the Second Period and started looking timid and started short-arming passes in the Third Period because of the physical style Toronto was playing. They allowed Toronto to intimidate them a bit and they were back on their heels a lot of the final frame. Fortunately, Vasilevskiy only needed the one goal.
The Lightning have gotten 16 of a possible 18 points so far in this 10-game segment of the season with 1 more game left to go. A win will put the Lightning at even for the year in the old "12 in 10" model, which prescribes earning 12 points every 10 games to make the playoffs comfortably. Considering 9 games ago the Lightning looked like a longshot to make the postseason, it's a great spot to be in heading into the All-Star Break. The team just needs to hope that any momentum they've gained doesn't dissipate with the time off.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot in 13:35.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:09.
They're baaaaaaaaack, NHL!
Ben Bishop allowed just 1 goal on 18 shots for the victory. You could probably count the number of good chances CHI had in this game on one hand. It was a defensive masterpiece and Bishop got the benefit of having to face a surprisingly low amount of work tonight.
0:43 CHI Anisimov (17), (Kane)
7:14 TB Stralman (6), (Hedman, Filppula)
16:39 TB Kucherov (20), (Hedman, Killorn)(PP)
In the battle of the unstoppable force (Chicago's 12-game winning streak) and the immovable object (Tampa Bay's fledgling 6-game winning streak) the unstoppable force found itself thrashed to pieces on the rocks of a complete 60 minute gem by the Lightning. The final score was 2-1, but without the heroics of Cory Crawford (third star) the Lightning could've won this game by about a 4-1 or 5-1 margin pretty easily. They outshot Chicago 33-18 on the night, denying the Blackhawks anything resembling possession and hounding them for every inch of open ice. The league is on notice now: after floundering for the first half of the year the defending Eastern Conference Champions are back, baby, and they might even be better this year. As mentioned in earlier game blogs, if you're an optimist you'll see the silver lining of the first half is that the Lightning have learned to play a far more defensively responsible game out of necessity that, when fused with their offensive firepower of a year ago, could be nearly unstoppable. Heck, the Lightning power play even looked dangerous on 3 of their 4 opportunities tonight and netted the eventual game winning goal. It's like the stars are aligning.
It's all very impressive, but 7 is a fluke and 8 is a streak.
If you're referring back to the 10-game segment mathematics, the win tonight means the Lightning will cut their season-long points pace deficit to not less than 4 points, and they have 3 more games left in this 10-game segment to cut that down even more or eliminate it altogether. And, guess what? The Lightning have cut the Florida Panthers' division lead to 1 point with a head-to-head matchup coming up on Saturday. Delicious. Pending the outcome of tomorrow's game between the Panthers and Blackhawks, the Lightning could have the opportunity to take over the top spot in the Atlantic in their next game and do so at the hands of their downstate little cousins. We sat through ~42 games of lukewarmness... give us this one, please, Lightning.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot in 8:29. He had one really good chance from the slot he nearly got five-hole on Crawford in the First Period. But, in a 1 goal game against the defending Stanley Cup champs, rookies aren't getting a ton of ice time.
Nikita Nesterov played 14:53. He didn't look all that great under physical duress against the Blackhawks forecheck, but he hung in there. And, offensively, he wasn't going for it as much tonight, in my opinion, understanding the situation of the game.
5 is a fluke. 6 is a streak.
Ben Bishop sparkled down the stretch of the game, and ended up allowing just 1 goal on 27 shots for the victory in the duel with Luongo.
4:21 TB Kucherov (17), (Nesterov, Stralman)
18:30 TB Sustr (2), (Garrison, Filppula)
8:06 FLA Bjugstad (8), (Jokinen)
18:36 TB Kucherov (18), (Hedman)(EN)
The Lightning controlled the bulk of this game, and the Panthers were very fortunate just to have a chance to pull the game out late. Tyler Johnson had the kill shot on his stick 2-3 times and just couldn't get it to go, including a rebound chance he chunked off the post that nearly ricocheted in anyway. Ultimately, though, the Lightning probably sealed the game on a marathon PK that saw the Lightning weather nearly the full 2 minutes in their own end and still maintain their positional discipline. It was majestic.
The Lightning advance to 5-0-0 in this 10-game segment of the season, and now have set themselves up with a chance to get on really solid footing for the playoff chase. In fact, with the Florida Panthers coming up on the schedule again in about a week, the team has a really unique opportunity to interject themselves fully into the division title hunt, as nobody in the Atlantic Division has really been all that consistent thus far this year. Edmonton is next on Tuesday, with the opportunity to hit the 12 point mark for this 10-game segment in a perfect 6 games.
Jonathan Marchessault had 2 shots and 1 hit in 8:45. In limited ice time, he looked dangerous offensively.
Nikita Nesterov had a helper and was +1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 1 blocked shot in 15:28. He's terrifying to watch if teams get their forecheck on him in deep, but he's been excellent otherwise and he's been collecting pluses at a big clip lately.
The hole gets deeper.
Ben Bishop allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the loss. Can't fault him for the goals (a 2-on-1 and a tip by an unmarked man in front). Can't fault him for the lack of goal support, either.
3:56 CGY Stajan (4), (Giordano, Brodie)
15:30 CGY Jones (8), (Giordano)
18:21 TB Stamkos (17), (Stralman, Filppula)
19:02 CGY Bouma (1), (Wideman, Russell)(EN)
They might as well have not gotten off the bus. They came out flat as a pancake, which they compounded with some pretty bad turnovers in the First Period. Calgary gets the early goal on the odd man rush, and from that point on the game never felt within reach. Calgary was too good defensively, and although the Lightning outshot the Flames 31-24, you could probably count the number of real scoring chances they had on one hand. The Lightning had nothing on the rush. Nothing off counters. No odd man rushes. And they were incapable of threading anything threatening through Calgary's defensive zone coverage inside the Flames zone. It was a clinic.
The Lightning finish Segment Four of the season with just 11 points in 10 games. Their overall season deficit climbs 1 point to 6 points overall at approximately the halfway point of the season. It's going to take a Herculean effort by the team in the second half just to make the postseason, and frankly they don't look like they have it in them. To reach 96 points, the Lightning have to play .643 hockey the rest of the way (with the extra 2 games at the end of the year factored in). That's pretty difficult stuff. What that means for the future of Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin, and a few others in the organization? Nothing good, I would venture to guess. The frustrating thing is the Lightning probably left 5 points on the ice in this segment between the collapse in Washington, the power play futility against Vancouver, and the poor shift after taking the lead in Toronto. The deficit could be a very manageable 2 points right now. Instead, it's gone up to 6, and the fat lady is already starting to warm up on January 5th.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 1 hit in 9:29. He's become sort of a power play specialist for the Lightning in the past couple of weeks, and when you get no power plays, the specialist's effectiveness tends to slide.
Nikita Nesterov had 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 19:45. He also had 4 other shot attempts he couldn't get on net. Calgary's defense climbed into his head with their shot blocking, and he ultimately froze on a great chance late in the game from the slot when he should've shot immediately. Not good.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 32 shots before stopping 3 of 3 in the penalty shot session for the SO win. Andrei didn't have a lot of work early and then really stepped in it on the puckhandling mistake that led to Minnesota's first goal. He looked shaky after that goal but got much, much stronger as the game progressed. And, in the Shootout, there's simply a different vibe with Vasiy in the crease. I'm going to make a bold suggestion to Jon Cooper: make Vasiy your designated SO goaltender from here on out regardless if Bishop is in net for OT. The fact of the matter is Bishop's five hole is a soul-destroying liability in the SO, whereas Vasiy's technique and newness is a big-time strategic advantage. I would use it, because with him in net you may only need to score 1 at the other end to get the second point.
11:40 TB Filppula (4), (Killorn, Stamkos)
15:39 MIN Coyle (10), (unassisted)
1:03 TB Kucherov (14), (Palat, Stralman)
17:21 MIN Spurgeon (6), (Coyle, Niederreiter)
Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman were the game's first and third stars.
The first 40 minutes of this game were the closest to real Tampa Bay Lightning hockey we've seen all year. Finally at full strength with Palat returning to the lineup and backs squarely against the wall, they dominated the first two frames in all aspects of the game and should've been up 2-0 except for the Vasilevskiy puckhandling gaffe. It's frustrating to me the Lightning had to be this close to standings death to finally display this level of urgency, but at least it finally came out of them tonight. Very key: they HAVE to play with that same level of urgency in Calgary to start their road trip or nothing they did tonight will matter an iota anyway.
The Third Period was a case of a team simply not handling the pressure of a one goal lead well. Paquette started it off by taking a bad tripping call and they were back on their heels almost the entire period thereafter. Vasilevskiy made some dazzling saves and got aided by a video review challenge that went Cooper's way, but in the end they just sagged way too much to possibly preserve that lead and they were lucky not to lose the game in regulation.
3-on-3 OT continues to be a strength for the Lightning, in my opinion. After the jail break of their first couple of 3-on-3's of the season, they've figured out the tactical game of managing possession and wearing down an opponent to free up chances. Hedman could've easily won it with a dazzling move that was only denied by a (lucky) stop by Dubnyk with the paddle of the stick. They had the momentum coming out of OT, and with Vasiy in net, Callahan got the forehand deke stash the team needed to get that crucial second point.
So here's where we're at with 1 game left to go in Segment Four of the season nearing the halfway point of the campaign: 11 points in the last 9 games. The next contest against Calgary will be the margin. Win and they have their best segment of the year and cut their overall season deficit to 4 points. Lose and they have their second failed segment and the deficit goes up to 6 points. You don't want to have to play .675 hockey the rest of the way to make the playoffs comfortably. To put it in perspective, .675 hockey is what Dallas has played to stake their club to the best record in the Western Conference in their first 40 games. That's just a bridge too far to expect a team to turn on a light switch and do that the second half of the year. .650 hockey is still a hellacious clip, mind you, but you're not putting yourself in a position where you have to have one of the top two records in your conference just to make it in without sweating bullets. And, quite frankly, at a certain point the team just needs to make the psychological break through where they're doing more than just treading water and they're starting to make a charge in the standings.
Jonathan Marchessault had 3 hits in 9:33. With Drouin heading down to Syracuse, Marchessault's spot on the team seems secure from here on out. He's a good 19 games from graduation from prospect status on the site, but from the looks of it he'll be racing Nesterov the rest of the way to become the next Bolt Prospects Alumni.