Tampa Bay rebounds from two tough losses for the 3-1 win
“We got out special teams-ed.”
On Saturday night after the Tampa Bay Lightning were shut out 3-0 at home against Boston, Jon Cooper’s summary focused on the team’s struggles both shorthanded and on the man advantage. It was clear after that game that Tampa Bay has to work on their special teams to get back to looking like the Stanley Cup contender they’ve been all season.
It took fourteen seconds for the Lightning’s rough spell to rear its head again. Backup goaltender Louis Domingue went behind his own net to play a puck, mishandled it, and allowed the puck to bounce off the inside of his right leg pad to allow a freak goal to Edmonton right wing Ty Rattie. A night after the Lightning were pushed around and beaten handily by the Boston Bruins, itself coming off a game earlier in the week where the Bolts were routed by visiting Ottawa, the goal seemed like a worst-case scenario.
Of course, the most important thing for the Lightning right now is to get in their proper form in time for the playoffs. The Atlantic Division and the Presidents Trophy are both valuable in a lot of ways, and the Lightning could do well to win both, but with ten games remaining in the season it is imperative that the Lightning prepare themselves for the long second season. They did that well in the first period, at times seeming to work more on their positioning and their puck movement than trying to score in hopes of finding their stride once again.
Victor Hedman evened the scored in the first when he hit a rocket of a slapshot that was deflected in a strange way and blew right by Edmonton netminder Al Montoya. There was no chance of making a save on the shot, the way it came out. The rocket of a goal energized the crowd and the Lightning alike, as Tampa Bay began to press the action after that.
The Lightning played like their old selves in the first period, despite the freak goal being scored so early. They took sixteen shots, pressing the action and setting up some real scoring opportunities that eventually led to Hedman’s tally. Every line contributed, whether they had to grind their shift out or they were on the attack.
Problematically, however, the power play continued to be a problem for the Lightning in the first period. On their two first period advantages, the Lightning allowed better scoring chances than they earned. The Bolts struggled on special teams on Saturday night as well, not creating much on their power play while allowing two goals on the penalty kill.
The power play came back to life in the second period, as Nikita Kucherov got a pass from Steven Stamkos and put it past Montoya to give the Lightning their first lead of the weekend. The goal was Kucherov’s 35th of the season and a welcome sign for Tampa Bay’s struggling special teams.
An even better sign, perhaps, was how the Lightning dealt with their first penalty kill of the night. When Victor Hedman was sent off for tripping in the second period, the Lightning unleashed a PK where they limited Edmonton to one decent scoring chance. Even that chance took a crowd of Oilers getting between the shooter and Louis Domingue to create a lot of annoying traffic in front of the net, but the backup netminder turned the shot away expertly.
A second penalty in the second period served to underline how the Lightning have been troubleshooting their penalty kill on the fly. No good chances were allowed, and Edmonton skated away frustrated after another great shorthanded showing.
A third Edmonton power play, coming in the third period, yielded more chances as the Oilers came out extremely strong on the advantage. However, thanks to some timely saves by Domingue and solid positioning that allowed the Lightning to collect and clear pucks when possible. Eventually, a fourth penalty kill—one that spend 28 seconds with the Lightning down two men—gave way to a stellar third period performance by Louis Domingue. In all, the Bolts killed off five penalties across four penalty kills. It was just what the doctor ordered.
All this good work led to another goal a few moments later when, following a couple of missed shots on open nets by Ryan Miller, Nikita Kucherov put a backhander through to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.
The Lightning have one game left in their season long homestand, and it is a real big one. Tampa Bay will have their last meeting at Amalie this season against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have proven themselves to be one of the toughest teams in the NHL. Just a few days after their much-anticipated game against the Bruins, the Lightning will get another test against one of the best teams in both their division and the league. Tampa Bay could easily find themselves facing Toronto in a playoff series, so this will be one to watch on Tuesday night.