Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning stare down adversity... and smack it in the mouth.
Ben Bishop stopped all 37 shots he faced for the shutout victory. Columbus' fans decided to make Bishop a target after he was interfered with on a goal that was waved off early in the game, and the Blue Jackets ran Ben several times, including a pretty wicked leg sweep by Foligno. All the sweeter for Bishop, who handed down some U of Maine Justice by blanking his would-be tormenters.
5:29 TB Stamkos(30), (Kucherov)
8:45 TB Namestnikov(12), (Johnson)
10:54 TB Stamkos(31), (Palat)(SH)
14:39 TB Palat(12), (Stamkos)(SH)
The Lightning entered this game pretty well needing a win, having dropped their last 3 with 2 of those being distinctive clunkers against Philly. That's why Bishop was in net today, when if all things were even I think this is a start Cooper might've slid Vasilevskiy's way. Columbus has learned to play a little tighter defensively under Tortorella and they're an extremely physical (goonish) team. They push the envelope of the rules. And, further complicating things, the Lightning ended up playing over half the game with 9 forwards after Valtteri Filppula and Nikita Kucherov had to leave the game with injury (the latter taking a sucker punch in a post whistle scrum from Prout that should be suspension-worthy, in my opinion, if the league gives a damn about protecting its stars).
Tired and sore, the Lightning answered the bell. They manufactured the goals they needed to get the 2-0 lead, they played tight enough defense, and they eventually broke it open on a couple of masterful shorthanded goals by Stamkos and Palat. Today wasn't a game that the Lightning would've circled on the calendar heading into it, but the way they handled adversity in a chippy game makes this a far more important victory than it may have looked on paper.
A little comment on Columbus before I move on: that team is an embarrassment. Let me reiterate: that team is an embarrassment. God bless Tortorella for getting them to play hard, but the fine line between playing hard and playing dirty got obliterated this afternoon. You had Foligno low-bridging a goaltender and body-slamming Namestnikov. You had Prout sucker-punching a Russian goal scorer in a post-whistle scrum that may have concussed Kucherov. You had Bourque slashing Tyler Johnson across the hands with the game well out of hand. You had Calvert slashing another Lightning player right at the final buzzer. That says nothing about all the other stick infractions, clutching and grabbing, and sucker punches and slashes the Blue Jackets got away with as the game wore on. They started to look like a glorified Central Hockey League team as things wore on, and the NHL out to seriously be ashamed there's a product like that anywhere on the league's ice. I wish John Tortorella all the best in taking a book of matches and a gallon or two of lighter fluid to that roster in the offseason in the pursuit of building a team that isn't an appalling laughing stock for anyone who cares about seeing the game played the right way.
With Valtteri Filppula hurt, I wouldn't be shocked to see a Tanner Richard recall, as he was held out of Syracuse's lineup today.
With 1 game left to play in Segment Seven of the season, the Lightning have cleared the minimum 12 points they needed from the 10-game set by 1 point. That means the next contest against Toronto on Tuesday will be an opportunity to pick up 2 more insurance points and drive the magic number they need in Segment Eight of the season to comfortably make the playoffs down even further from 11, which is where it currently stands.
Lightning should be held in contempt for failure to appear.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 22 shots for the loss. I have a hard time complaining about a goaltender who has gotten a whopping 1 goal of support in the last 120 minutes (and 10 seconds!) of hockey.
8:57 PHI Gagner(7), (unassisted)(PP)
3:34 PHI Read(11), (MacDonald, Couturier)(PP)
7:56 PHI Schenn(23), (Simmonds, Manning)
17:18 TB Boyle(10), (Stralman, Killorn)
The Lightning just never showed up tonight. Having failed to get the payoff for such a spirited effort against Boston, they just never mentally bought into playing tonight, or at least it appeared that way, and they just were lifeless. When they're second to pucks they're a bad, bad team.
Sidebar: I have a feeling Cooper could put all 12 Lightning forwards on the power play and they'd still struggle. We'll see how that experiment goes, though. 0-for-1 is certainly a small sample size to draw conclusions from.
The scary thing is the Lightning appear to the naked eye to be playing the same brand of hockey they were in their disastrous first half of the season. In other words, disinterest mixed with mistakes and the distinct absence of goal scoring. That needs to change in a hurry if the Lightning want to win the division and if they want to make sure they don't put themselves back in a little jeopardy of missing the playoff cut.
One bad shift costs the Lightning a signature win.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 33 shots for the OT loss. He was excellent in the game, and it was a difficult game to be excellent in because it had long stretches of inactivity after which Bishop would have to make a Grade A save on a high quality chance. He deserved better than the finish.
0:10 BOS Marchand(34), (Bergeron, Krug)
Bishop was the game's second star.
Considering the setup to this game, with the clunker in Philly last night and Stralman missing the game, this was a strong, strong effort by the Lightning. They got everything but the result, which robs them of a richly deserved signature moment. This felt like a playoff game. "Playoff atmosphere" is an overused cliche in the regular season, but it would've actually been applied correctly tonight. Unfortunately, the Lightning just couldn't get anything past Gustavsson and one flat shift by the 4-man unit to start OT cost them, big time.
With 3 games left to play in this 10-game segment of the season, Tampa Bay needs just 1 more point to stay on minimum playoff pace. They also retain a lead in the Atlantic Division title chase based on the ROW tiebreaker and their game in hand on Boston.
There are just 15 games left to go in the regular season, and they'll be gone in the blink of an eye.
Slater Koekkoek had 1 shot in 11:05. Rookie defender in a 0-0 game all the way through regulation? He simply wasn't getting the ice time tonight under those circumstances.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot in 12:02. He had 5 other attempts on goal, though, that were either missed or blocked. So he was active in limited IT.
All good things...
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 3 goals on 39 shots for the loss. It was an unfortunate result for Andrei, because he was the only reason the Lightning had any chance at all tonight. He played really well.
4:07 TB Palat(11), (Koekkoek, Johnson)
16:51 PHI Gostisbehere(13), (Raffl, Couturier)
7:21 PHI Gostsbehere(14), (Giroux, Streit)(PP)
13:57 PHI B. Schenn(22), (Giroux, Simmonds)
14:53 TB Namestnikov(11), (Johnson, Kucherov)
19:33 PHI Simmonds(24), (B. Schenn)(EN)
Vasilevskiy was the game's third star.
So ends the Lightning's franchise record 9-game winning streak. The Lightning got the goal early in the First Period and then played the role of spectator the rest of the night. They were flat, lifeless, and unfocused. They were second to loose pucks all night long, they were weak on their sticks, and their decision-making, positioning, and passing were remarkably poor. That's one of the worst games the Lightning have played in years, and would be easier to shrug off if, A.) They hadn't played poorly in their last game a stolen a win, and B.) They didn't have a good Boston team on a back-to-back tomorrow night. Just as concerning, as quickly and unexpectedly as Callahan and Killorn started playing well on Stamkos' line, that trio has gone back into the witness protection program again. Look, I love "The Triplets," but the Lightning will go as far as the vets like Stamkos and Callahan can take them, because they will have to give the Lightning the scoring balance they need to compete in the playoffs.
Get well soon Brayden Coburn and Andrej Sustr.
Slater Koekkoek had a helper, his first NHL point, and was +1 with 2 shots, 1 hit, and 2 blocked shots in 13:27.
Jonathan Marchessault had 1 shot and 2 hits in 9:12. If you blinked, you probably missed him tonight. He's 7 games from graduation from prospect status on the website.
Lightning survive the trap game in a quick pit stop at home.
Ben Bishop allowed 3 goals on 27 shots for the OT win. He'll want the first one back that went in off his blocker. The other two were not his fault when you talk about a puck that went in off Stralman's face and a tap in for an unmarked Skinner. Bottom line: he stood on his head in OT when he needed to in order to give the Lightning a chance to get the win.
16:43 TB Palat(9), (Johnson)
13:24 CAR Rask(15), (DiGiuseppe, Skinner)
15:41 TB Palat(10), (Kucherov)
3:09 CAR Staal(17), (Lindholm, Rask)(PP)
10:18 CAR Skinner(23), (DiGiuseppe, Murphy)
13:42 TB Johnson(12), (Kucherov, Namestnikov)
4:17 TB Killorn(13), (Filppula)
When you win nine in a row, they're not all going to be masterpieces. Tonight was definitely an example. The Lightning got pretty loose defensively about midway through the game and it took a few great individual plays by the likes of Palat, Kucherov, and Killorn to ultimately manufacture a win. I'm not going to get too upset about it, though. There's a reason why it's taken over twenty years for a Lightning team to finally win nine in a row: it's really hard to play really well night in and night out consistently weeks and weeks and weeks at a time.
Halfway through this 10-game segment of the season, the Lightning are a perfect 5-0-0, meaning they need just 2 points out of the next 5 games to stay on playoff pace. They should do that easily, so now is the time to stockpile points to allow the team to have the luxury of resting some guys around game 80, 81, and 82 of the season. In the Atlantic, the Lightning hold serve with the Panthers playing late at Arizona. At a minimum, the Lightning will maintain their tie atop the division with the tiebreaker due to their (sizable!) ROW advantage.
Lightning overcome temporary brain deadness to run win streak to 8.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 34 shots for the victory. He was extremely solid, and he had to be to help the Lightning weather the important moments in this game.
4:14 TB Paquette(5), (Brown, Hedman)
18:33 TB Palat(8), (Johnson)
5:24 OTT Methot(3), (Smith)
18:14 TB Kucherov(25), (unassisted)
19:46 TB Stamkos(29), (Stralman)(EN)
Bishop and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and second stars.
The Lightning made that harder than they needed to, and it's not a tape they'll be looking at for aesthetic reasons. They built the 2-0 lead through 40 minutes by playing solid, opportunistic road hockey. They really were pushing hard for the put away goal early in the Third Period, and they started getting sloppy on their breakouts, which led to about 10-15 minutes of nail biting. You simply cannot have the unforced turnovers at your own blueline, and the Lightning were just playing braindead hockey for that span of the game. Fortunately Bishop was solid and fortunately Pageau made an even worse unforced turnover to Kucherov in the OTT slot to get the put away goal and avoid the photo finish.
At the time of this posting, Colorado holds a 3-2 lead over the Panthers. If that holds up, the Lightning will again be in a tie atop the Atlantic Division. Either way, the Lightning already have 8 of the minimum 12 points they need out of this 10 game segment of the season with 6 games left in it. That means they're in excellent shape to squirrel away a lot of points heading into the very last segment of the regular season.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 3 shots, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 15:11. Tonight was his 41st game of the season, meaning he is now graduated from prospect status on the website. He put in a pretty good performance at both ends of the rink to celebrate the occasion, too.
Another workmanlike effort puts the Lightning into a 1st place tie in the Atlantic.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 32 shots for the victory. After struggling to find the right formula for keeping Vasiy sharp and developing earlier in the year, the Lightning organization appears to have figured it out. His spot starts with Syracuse have been working and he was sharp as a Ginsu again this evening.
4:53 TB Johnson(10), (Kucherov, Coburn)
15:28 TB Johnson(11), (unassisted)
17:45 TOR Kadri(12), (Rielly, Gardiner)
Tyler Johnson and Vasilevskiy were the game's first and second stars.
The Lightning played a pretty strong road First Period and probably deserved to have a 1-2 goal lead coming out of the opening frame. But, with Garret Sparks playing well and getting plenty of luck from his friend the iron, the Lightning couldn't quite build up the big margin through 40 minutes, and come the Third Period they were running on fumes against a younger, fresher team. But, at no point did they panic. They played a poised game and they protected the lead and got the 2 points.
The Lightning's big playoff acquisition: the healthy return of Jason Garrison. It was not a moment too soon, either, with Andrej Sustr leaving the game in the Second Period with an unspecified malady.
With the victory, the Lightning have tied the Panthers at 78 points for the top spot in the Atlantic, with the Panthers holding a game in hand. The Lightning also have picked up 6 points so far in this 10-game segment of the season, meaning they have 7 more games to pick up the remaining 6 points they need to hit that minimum target of 12 points. In other words, they've set themselves up nicely to potentially build some padding in the standings for the first time this year. And, now that the calendar is flipping over to March, that's exactly what you want.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 penalty minutes, 3 shots, and 3 hits in 15:03. That's Nikita's 40th game of the season, meaning his next appearance will graduate him from prospect status on the website. Marchessault's still got a decent chance to get to graduation this year, but that's about it. It's a far cry from where the Lightning were three years ago with rookies becoming NHL'ers left and right.
Jack Edwards' tears are sweet.
Ben Bishop allowed 1 goal on 33 shots for the victory.
6:01 BOS Miller(5), (Kemppainen, Ferraro)
11:19 TB Killorn(12), (Stralman, Callahan)(PP)
14:39 TB Callahan(9), (Killorn)
8:18 TB Callahan(10), (Stamkos, Stralman)(PP)
10:04 TB Stamkos(28), (unassisted)(PS)
Right now, the Lightning are playing fairly tight defense and they're pretty ruthless in capitalizing on their chances. The combination is absolutely potent, and these laughers where they build a 3 goal lead at the end of 40 minutes never get old. They're also really helpful on the front end of back-to-backs where you can conserve energy for the back end by playing an efficient Third Period. It's amazing how easy they made it look tonight given how close the two teams are in the standings, what was at stake, and the fact that Boston has been hell on earth for the Lightning over the past couple of decades.
With 20 games left to go in the season, the Lightning are 2 points back of the Panthers for the division lead. They're also 1 ahead in the win column and 4 ahead in ROW. Florida's margin is purely built on loser points, and I suspect Florida's recent flurry of trade acquisitions was prompted by the realization they're a paper tiger. Go get your banner, Lightning.
Jonathan Marchessault was -1 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 8:56.
Nikita Nesterov was -1 with 1 blocked shot in 15:17.
Making it look easy.
Ben Bishop stopped all 21 shots he faced for the shutout victory. He made a strong handful of situational saves in the Second Period when it was still a 1 goal game that allowed the Lightning to eventually pull away and make it a laugher. U of Maine Justice was served.
15:36 TB Killorn(11), (Stamkos, Callahan)
13:02 TB Palat(7), (Johnson)
18:54 TB Stamkos(27), (Stralman, Callahan)
11:12 TB Carle(2), (Palat, Sustr)
If the win against Arizona was workmanlike, this win was almost like a walk in the park. New Jersey had a little fight in them for about 30 minutes, but once they made that miscue with Henrique picking off his own d-man to produce the Palat goal to make it 2-0, it was over. From that point on the Lightning just put it in cruise control. Looked smooth and comfortable all the way to the finish line. Rarely has Bishop had to do so little in the last half of a game to keep a clean sheet. And, the Lightning did it with balance, with 2 goals a piece from the Stamkos and Palat lines.
The Stamkos line is such an interesting case. The TV guys have been throwing roses at Cooper for putting that line together, but it's the same trio that was the dog's breakfast most of the first half of the season. Their recent successes, to me, come down to Stamkos and Callahan simply playing a lot better. Stamkos, in this game, was as good as I've seen him in a long, long time. His goal on the long deflection was the kind of goal that's been notoriously absent from his repertoire this season, and I was really pleased to see it tonight. He used to get a ton of those long deflection goals with his hand eye coordination flashing through the edges of the high traffic areas.
I'm admittedly a little unsure and scared of living in a world where Matt Carle is both scoring and racking up pluses. It'd be an unmitigated positive thing if I didn't have a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me it was a sign of a coming apocalypse.
It wasn't all positives in the game, but close. The road power play continues to be quite stinky and Victor Hedman got dinged up in the Third Period with what appeared to be a hand/wrist injury. That bears watching because with Garrison already out, the Lightning really can't afford to lose another regular.
Jonathan Marchessault had 4 shots and 2 hits in 16:17. My feeling is tonight was right around the sweet spot for Jonathan, minutes-wise, to be effective.
Nikita Nesterov had 2 shots in 15:28. A quiet game is a good thing for Nikita right now. He's now 3 games from graduation from prospect status on the site. Marchessault is 8 games out, if anyone is counting.
Workmanlike effort keeps the Lightning on pace.
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 1 goal on 30 shots for the victory. His lone goal against was a little unlucky deflection on a point shot off a faceoff loss, otherwise this would've been a shutout. This was his sharpest performance in his past several starts, in my opinion.
12:38 TB Stamkos(26), (Callahan, Killorn)
19:55 TB Paquette(4), (unassisted)(PS)
4:06 AZ Martinook(8), (Stone, Doan)
Paquette's smooth finish on the penalty shot at the end of the Second Period was crucial to helping the Lightning fend off the smash and grab attempt by the Coyotes. Domingue played really well in net for Arizona and I think it's always tough for shooters when they have to go against a goaltender who catches righty. You tend to be hard wired to shoot for rebounds stick side from distance, especially coming off the right wing, and those shots get swallowed up easily by a wrong-handed netminder. Domingue had to be that good because the Lightning came out storming in the First Period and had a possession advantage they maintained for pretty much the entire game.
The victory caps this sixth 10-game segment of the season with a 4-game winning streak to put the Lightning at exactly the 12 points you ask for out of the set. So, while it looked more than dicey just a week ago, the Lightning remain exactly on the number they need to be on to make the playoffs comfortably. So, they advance on: 12 in 10, do it again.
Jonathan Marchessault played 12:54 and saw his 3-game point streak snapped.
Nikita Nesterov was +1 with 3 shots, 2 hits, and 2 blocked shots in 14:59. He looked so good tonight in the offensive zone, especially in the 4-on-4 situation. But, man alive, he looked so bad with the puck in his own end. He had a critical turnover in the Third Period passing blindly out of his corner that he's very fortunate Arizona didn't make more of. He's now 4 games shy of graduation from prospect status on the site, by my count.