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Surprising Coyotes Push Lightning but Home Winning Streak Intact

Fans around town are still talking about that thrilling shootout Tampa Bay Lightning win against the New York Rangers on Thursday. On the same night, the Arizona Coyotes played host to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Taking a 3-2 lead into the third period, Toronto thought they had those two points that come with a win.  The surprising Coyotes had other thoughts. They hung four goals in the final period to win easily over the Leafs 6-3. Earlier in the week, the ‘Yotes beat Colorado in a shootout. They keep this up and they won’t be the surprising Coyotes any longer. Can the Lightning extend their six game home winning streak?

Don’t Blink

If the Lightning were to underestimate this Coyotes team, it would be to their own detriment. The NHL has worked for parity throughout the league and Arizona is the poster child for that desire. Sure, they’re closer to the bottom of the league with their 31 points than the last playoff spot in the Western Conference but look at their last three games. The beat Los Angeles who have 48 points. Then the Coyotes followed that up with the shootout win over the Avalanche and their 41 points. If that wasn’t enough, they beat the Leafs (and their 50 points) handily before heading to Amalie. Did I say surprising Coyotes, they are downright mind-boggling as they prepare to face the Lightning.

With the week Arizona had, you know they were busting at the seams with confidence. In hockey, when a team is that confident, they will begin getting the lucky bounces, they get the puck luck that leads to goals. The first goal of this game was one such goal. Credit the Coyotes for not giving up on the forecheck. They worked hard to pin the Lightning in the Lightning zone and Travis Boyd picked up a loose puck to the right of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Boyd snapped a shot that went off Vasilevskiy’s mask then bounced off Zach Bogosian’s beard then skipped past Vasilevskiy to give Arizona a 1-0 lead.

Lucky or Just Plucky

Okay, so there’s their one lucky goal. Before you could actually formulate that sentence, the visitors got another goal. This wasn’t a lucky goal, this was hard earned. Christian Fischer trailing the play saw two point blank shots on Vasilveskiy which he saved. Unfortunately, Fischer waltzed in to the goal crease unchecked and flicked the third shot of the sequence into the net. That goal scored 34 seconds after the first goal gave Arizona a 2-0 lead and the Lightning were feeling like Los Angeles, Colorado and Toronto before them. Would their be any pushback by the Lightning?

Brayden Point provided that push. Working with his line mates, Nikita Kucherov and Brandon Hagel, Point took an errant Kucherov pass off his skate then batted the puck in mid-air past Arizona goalie, Karel Vejmelka to cut the Coyote lead in half. It was the Lightning’s own version of puck luck. That is how the first period ended with a 2–1 Arizona lead.

Who’s Going to Take Control

From the start of the second period, the Lightning were working hard to take control. It took Arizona three minutes to cross the red center line. Despite the Lightning putting some shots on net, the Arizona defense played strong enough to keep their slim one goal lead. It wasn’t as if the Coyotes weren’t still rubbing their lucky rabbit’s foot as the Lightning failed to score on a 2 on none breakaway. Then Kucherov beats Vejmalka only to have the post keep the puck out of the net. Despite the dominance in this period, the Lightning still trailed Arizona by a goal.

As the period entered the second half, Mikhail Sergachev tied the game at two when he blasted a shot that hit a Coyote defender’s stick and bounced past the Arizona netminder. The Coyotes challenged the goal as being offside but after further review it was determined to be onside and we got a brand new ballgame. Point and Victor Hedman assisted on the Sergachev goal. Clearly, the luck seemed to be shining Tampa’s way.

After the failed challenge, Arizona was assessed a two minute penalty. In the ensuing power play, Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos slapped his 498th career goal past Vejmelka to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead. No confirmation yet on the Coyotes trading in their lucky charms. Hedman and Kucherov assisted on the Stamkos goal.

Not Surprising Coyotes Won’t Go Away

About 90 seconds after Stamkos’ goal created delirium inside Amalie Arena, the never quit Coyotes well didn’t quit. Nick Bjugstad intercepted a poor pass by Sergachev inside the Lightning zone and snapped the puck past Vasilevskiy to knot the game at three. The Lightning beginning to realize that the Coyotes beating those three playoff teams in the last week was no fluke. It was at this point that both teams seemed to settle into this game. Back and forth, each team getting their chances to break the tie. Kucherov hits the post again, same spot, same result – no goal.

Then, one of Thursday’s night heroes, Alex Killorn deftly stole the puck from Shayne Gothisbere and skated in all alone on Vejmelka. Using almost the same move he used to beat Igor Shesterkin for the game winner in the shootout Thursday, Killorn put the puck in the net for a 4-3 Lightning lead. Definitely have to keep that one in the repertoire.

End 2022 on a High Note

As the third period started, one thing was certain. If the Lightning came into tonight’s game taking the Coyotes too lightly, they weren’t any longer. This Arizona team struggled to get the puck out of their zone. Since the first period, they didn’t enter the Lightning zone without a supreme effort and when they did, they didn’t last long in Tampa’s zone. Yet, they were one shot from tying the game. I could almost hear the Toronto fans rooting on the Coyotes.

Not quite three minutes into the period, Arizona’s Josh Brown was whistled for a boarding penalty and then found himself in a fracas with Pat Maroon. Sure enough, they dropped the mitts and both combatants went into the box for the requisite five minutes for fighting. There were no real good blows that landed, lots of jabs and “why, I oughtas” but nothing to write home about. On their third power play of the the game, the Lightning already had one power play goal. The top power play unit made it two for three as Brandon Hagel tipped in a missile from Hedman giving the Lightning a 5-3 lead.

Arizona kept the Lightning on their toes. They seemingly scored their 4th goal with about two minutes left in the game but the Lightning challenged it as being offside. The review concurred with the Lightning and the goal was waved off allowing the Lightning to maintain their 5-3 lead. In the frantic last 90 seconds of the game, Arizona pulled their goalie and got off some decent shots on Vasilevskiy but the game ended 5-3 Lightning.  That’s makes it a seven game home winning streak.

Three Stars

  1. Victor Hedman  – Three assists and moved into third place in franchise history in assists
  2. Brayden Point – One goal and one assist
  3. Nikita Kucherov – Two assists and two posts hit

What’s Next

2023 is next. Happy New Year Lightning Fans!! The team goes on a three game road trip through the Midwest. Chicago is up next on Tuesday night at 8:30 pm.

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