Lightning Shake Off Early Struggles to Defeat Leafs

Tampa Bay was down 3-0 before turning it around

The Tampa Bay Lightning looked like their goose was cooked late in the second period. They fell down 3-0 with the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs pressing the action throughout and firmly in control of the game for the first two periods.

From the 16 minute mark of the second period on, however, it was a different story as the Lightning came from behind to steal the last game of an eight game homestand on Tuesday night. The Lightning won 4-3 behind goals from Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Ryan McDonagh, and Alex Killorn.

Ondrej Palat returned to the Lightning mix on Tuesday night, his first action since January 20. Palat joined a line with Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson, hoping to give the Lightning depth.

Unfortunately, it might be a case of one man on and one man off, as Ryan Callahan was sent to the locker room in the first period following the kind of altercation for which matching minor penalties are awarded. Callahan’s injury was listed as an upper body injury, and he did not return.

James Van Riemsdyk opened the scoring in the first period. Toronto had the puck on a delayed penalty and wouldn’t allow the Lightning to touch it, leading to an opportunity and a goal. From there, it seemed that the Maple Leafs were firmly in control of the game. Toronto dominated puck possession for the last ten minutes of the first period, eventually drawing a penalty with 28 seconds remaining in the frame.

Toronto opened the second period with a power play goal, again by Van Riemsdyk. The Leafs continued to push the action and keep Tampa Bay on their heels. The Lightning’s chances in the first part of the second period were few and far between, as Toronto held the puck in their offensive zone for the bulk of the time.

15:41 into that second period, Toronto got the lead to 3-0 on a goal by Zach Hyman. Hyman’s goal came off a Lightning turnover in their own zone, which was a pattern on Tuesday night and has been a pattern for weeks for this Lightning team. It appears, much of the time, that the Lightning try to do a little too much with the puck when their players get it. In the defensive end, this means a lot of long passes that have time to get picked off and become scoring chances for the opposite team.

On offense, the Lightning tried to be perfect and let perfect be the enemy of good. Opportunities to shoot the puck led to players making the extra move, or trying to make a clever last second pass, and in waiting too long they often lost their chance. Those missed opportunities became increasingly frustrating, and made the game look a bit Toronto-sided for the first forty minutes. Victor Hedman got a goal late in the second period to cut into the lead, but the Lightning entered the third with a two goal deficit and issues getting by the Maple Leafs.

Funny thing about hockey: You can control a game for forty minutes, and still see the game get tight in the final twenty. After being pushed around by the Maple Leafs in the first and second periods, the Lightning roared back in the third, controlling the action thoroughly early in the period to cut the lead to 3-2 on a Ryan McDonagh goal and tying it up a couple minutes later when Nikita Kucherov put one past Frederik Andersen. Amalie Arena, which had been dominated to that point by transplanted and “snowbird” Canadians, was suddenly loud with chants of “let’s go Bolts” instead of “go Leafs go.”

Tampa Bay continued to press the action. Suddenly, they were back to their familiar ways, relentless on offense and quick to grab the puck on defense.

The Lightning’s season long eight game homestand has come to an end. Tampa Bay went 6-2-0 over that stretch. From here, Tampa Bay will travel to Brooklyn to take on the New York Islanders on Thursday night. The Islanders, led by John Tavares in another stellar season,   The Isles have had a rough year, currently last in a very competitive Metropolitan Division, but with Tavares in front they’re always a tough out, particularly on the road. The two teams have split their season series to this point, with the Lightning losing 3-5 at home on November 18 and winning 6-2 on December 5.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.