J.T. Miller had a hat trick, but the Lightning fell short
The Tampa Bay Lightning took their first loss of a long March homestand in what turned out to be an ugly score, falling to the Ottawa Senators 7-4 on Tuesday night. Tampa Bay fell behind in the first period and never truly recovered on a night where starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy only lasted two of the three periods.
In many ways, the Lightning played the game they wanted to play. Jon Cooper’s team was able to take a lot of shots, in fact tallying over forty on Tuesday night. The offense created chances and was generally menacing all night, but only J.T. Miller could find the net for the Bolts. Miller had a hat trick that was finished off in the second period, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Lightning in the game on a night where their defense simply failed them.
Tampa Bay’s main problem was their inability to clear the puck out of the defensive zone. The Lightning turned the puck over in front of their own net several times on Tuesday, and that sort of hockey leads to goals being racked up. Passes did not connect. Others were stopped before they could get past the blue line. Mishandling of the puck created turnovers as well, and the Senators had their pick of opportunities as a result.
The Lightning applied the pressure early, creating chances on Ottawa goalie Mike Condon that eventually led to a goal when Steven Stamkos found Nikita Kucherov behind the Ottawa net, and Kucherov found J.T. Miller right in front of it for an easy goal. The 1-0 lead was short-lived, however, as the Senators seized control of the contest for the rest of the first period. They charged into the Lightning zone and dominated possession, taking 17 shots in the period and scoring three goals.
Magnus Paajarvi opened the scoring for Ottawa with a goal just 7:47 into the game. The Senators broke the tie three minutes later on a near perfect shot from Ryan Dzingel, and extended their lead less than a minute after that on a Tom Pyatt tip off a Cody Ceci shot. The Lightning managed to match the Senators’ 17 first period shots, but it was Ottawa who entered the locker room with the two goal lead.
The second period started out much better for Tampa Bay. After drawing a penalty just 39 seconds into the period, J.T. Miller found the net once again to cut the Ottawa lead in half. The goal was a thing of beauty, with Miller collecting a rebound off Condon and staring down the Ottawa goalie before putting one past him. It’s clear that Miller was much, much more to the Lightning than a throw in to get a defenseman at the trade deadline.
Tampa Bay played a relentless style of hockey in the second, firing constantly on Condon to try and even up the score. After the Miller goal, much of the period was spent in the Tampa Bay offensive zone. That is, of course, until a penalty was called against Braydon Coburn that put the Senators on the power play, leading to their fourth goal and reinstating the two goal lead. They made it three later on a Mike Hoffman goal set up by a juicy rebound.
Miller cut into the 5-2 lead with a goal on the power play to make it a hat trick, his first as a member of the Lightning. The power play goal that brought the hats to the ice came on a perfect centering pass that Miller only needed to tap to put past Condon. Stamkos had the assist. The Senators got one back briefly thereafter when a pass deflected off the stick of Chris Kunitz for a freakish Ottawa goal, making the score 6-3 through two periods.
The six goals chased Andrei Vasilevskiy from the game, bringing in Peter Budaj for the third period. Budaj is back with the Lightning after spending a little time in Syracuse recovering from an injury. He’ll need to get some work in before the end of the season to spell Vasilevskiy and keep the Tampa Bay starter fresh for the playoffs.
While Tuesday was an off night for the Lightning starter, it wasn’t exactly the result of terrible play by Vasilevskiy. With turnovers in their own defensive zone and trouble eliminating shooting lanes for the Senators, Tampa Bay was their own worst enemy on defense and did no favors for a goalie who has been known to bail them out of similar situations.
Kucherov passed 90 points on the season on Tuesday night. He’s just the fifth Lightning player to reach that milestone, joining Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and teammate Steven Stamkos. With so much time left in the season, Kucherov is a candidate to join the even more exclusive club of Tampa Bay players to score more than 100 points in a season. Lecavalier and St. Louis are the others.
Ryan McDonagh scored the Lightning’s fourth goal of the night, his first as a Bolt.
The Lightning homestand continues with a few days for Tampa Bay to wash the taste of the loss out of their mouths before hosting the Boston Bruins on Saturday. The Bruins are surging of late, challenging the Lightning for first place in the Atlantic. On Tuesday night Boston beat the Carolina Hurricanes 6-4 care of a five goal third period. Boston won the first meeting between these two teams, a 3-2 loss in Boston where the Lightning were thrown off their game all night. The game is a potential playoff preview against two of the best teams in the NHL. What’s more, with Boston in town and St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday there is sure to be a loud atmosphere in Amalie Arena at 7:00 when the two teams face off.