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2023 Ends With a Bang for the Lightning

Scrum Sports phot by Alex Walworth

The last day of 2023 found the Tampa Bay Lightning playing hosts to the Montreal Canadiens. This Atlantic Division game also brings former Bolt, Marty St. Louis to Amalie Arena as Montreal’s coach. A few games ago, I wrote that this season’s rendition of the Lightning can best be described as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One game they look unbeatable and the next they look like a playoff pretender. After the road trip mid-December where they went 2-3, the Lightning came back home for five of their last six games. Tonight is the sixth game. The Lightning have won three of the previous five games. So, it comes down to this. Win tonight and the Lightning end 2023 winning four of their last six games. That’s a 67% winning percentage.  Well, hello Dr. Jekyll. Lose and they end the calendar year as a .500 team and that isn’t what a playoff team does. 

Jonas Johansson gets the start in net for the Lightning. Sam Montembeault gets the call for the Canadiens. Mikhail Sergachev didn’t dress for the fifth straight game and is still considered day to day with a lower body injury. Captain Steven Stamkos is playing in his 1,038th game in a Lightning sweater eclipsing the record previously held by former captain, Vinnie Lecavalier. 

First Period 

Usually, events that happen on New Year’s Eve are exciting. The first period of tonight’s game was anything but. It was lackluster and ended with neither team scoring a goal. Sure, there were 13 shots on goal for both teams combined. The first period wasn’t a defensive battle or both goalies were standing on their heads. Truth be told, the opening period was a total snoozefest. 

Maybe the fact that both teams played last night led to the lackadaisical effort in the first 20 minutes. If neither team picks up their pace in the next period, the dropping of the ball in Times Square can’t come soon enough. This game is there for the taking for either team. This game is going to come down to want and deserve. Which team wants this win more? It should be evident in the next two periods and that team will deserve to end 2023 with a bang.

Second Period

Anyone expecting the second period to be the same as the first were in for a surprise. Both teams seemed to want to get the game’s first goal and their skating seemed more determined than what we saw in the opening period. 

Three minutes into the period, Montreal struck first. Cole Caufield snatched the puck away from Stamkos right in front of Johansson. He wristed it past the Lightning goalie to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Johansson was hung out to dry on that goal. Perhaps, it was the lift Montreal got from that goal but 10 seconds after Caufield’s goal, Josh Anderson laid out Erik Cernak behind the Lightning net. Luke Glendenning was having none of that and dropped his gloves and jumped Anderson. After a couple of punches thrown by both, Glendenning pushed Anderson onto the ice.

Then the period settled down a bit. Only to have more fireworks begin. The Lightning took a shot that was gloved by Montembault. It appeared that the referee was about to whistle the play dead. It appeared that way because he lifted the whistle to his mouth. As he did that, the Lightning players went to their bench and Johansson skated away from his net. Montembault hadn’t heard the whistle and dropped the puck to his defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic. He shot the puck from his goal line into the empty Lightning net. Just like that, it was 2-0 Montreal with a 195 foot shot and goal.

Second Half of the Second Period

Now it looks as if the Lightning are headed into the new year with a whimper. There was no doubt the entire Tampa bench was upset at Montreal’s second goal. Now, the excitement of this game was escalating and the beneficiaries were the Lightning. Two minutes after this unfortunate Canadiens goal, Brayden Point snapped a shot past Montembault to cut Montreal’s lead in half, 2-1.

Just when I thought I had seen everything in this game, Austin Watson flipped the puck towards the slot and a streaking Tanner Jeannot. The puck began bouncing towards Montembault. Jeannot tried but couldn’t reach the puck. Not to worry, Montembault misplayed it and the puck bounced through his five hole. Game is tied at two. Victor Hedman assisted on the goal. 

Third Period

Heading into the final regulation period, this game is tied at two. Both teams have played well enough to win and sloppy enough to lose. As the third period began, neither team was making any headway in offensive zone time. About seven minutes into the period, Calvin deHaan trailing on an offensive rush received a beautiful pass from Nikita Kucherov. deHaan wasted no time before snapping a shot past the screened out Montembault. Just like that, it’s Lightning up 3-2. 

One thing was certain, Montreal wasn’t going to quit. They pushed and pushed hard. It didn’t matter. The Lightning were determined to end 2023 with a bang, not to mention a win. With about five minutes left in the period, the NHL’s leading scorer added to his league leading total again with his 26th goal. Hedman also assisted on this goal. That pushed the Lightning lead to 4-2. 

Montreal didn’t lay down. Their captain, Nick Suzuki scored with two minutes remaining which made it a one goal game. It made it exciting but the win was inevitable for the Lightning. Way to end 2023 and here’s wishing the Lightning continue these winning ways in 2024. 

Three Stars

  1. Nikita Kucherov – 1 goal and 1 assist and remains the NHL’s top scorer
  2. Victor Hedman – 2 assists and still eating up minutes in Sergchev’s absence. 
  3. Calvin deHaan – First goal as a member of the Lightning and it broke the time in the 3rd period

What’s Next

Tuesday night at Winnipeg, the Lightning face the Jets. Puck drops at 8 pm.


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