The Tampa Bay Lightning limped into the Prudential Center to face off against the New Jersey Devils, desperately looking to get two points to insure home ice for at least their opening round of the playoffs. Despite playing a Devils team that had little or nothing to play for; the Lightning would face a tough challenge to get those points; after dropping two straight games before tonight along with the injury bug hitting the team at the absolute worst time of the season. Tampa was already dealing with Steven Stamkos being out for at least a month due to his recent blood clot surgery but were also told they’d be without core players Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman against the Devils due to recent injuries. If the Lightning were going to secure a win against the Devils they were likely going to have to rely on their young core of Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson, as well need a big effort in net from their Ben Bishop. There was also a wild card addition to the Lightning lineup that could potentially help the team; as young talented but maligned prospect Jonathan Drouin was brought up from Syracuse and put into the active lineup due to all the injuries to Tampa forwards.
The 1st period started with both teams trading careless penalties as Tampa defenseman Andrej Sustr would take a hooking penalty only a few seconds into the game, and the Devils would take a ‘too many men on the ice’ penalty after their first power play was over. Neither club was able to do much with the man advantage keeping the game tied early in the 1st period. The Lightning would draw first blood as winger Erik Condra would bang home a rebound after a Andrej Sustr shot would hit the post and cause the Devils goaltender to falldown, allowing Condra the open net to give the Lightning an early 1-0 lead. The game would turn chippy midway through the period after Devils center Joseph Blandisi and Tampa winger Michael Blunden would exchange words, and then Blunden would exchange punches with Devil winger Bobby Farnham’s face after he injected himself into Bluden and Blandisi’s chirping. The undermanned Lightning defense would perform well throughout the first by limiting the Devils to only a handful of scoring chances, along with Ben Bishop preventing any real rebound opportunities on the few shots he would face. The Lightning would take the 1-0 lead into the 1st intermission, as well as have a large shot on goal advantage; out shooting the Devils 10-3 through the 1st period.
The 2nd period would start with the New Jersey Devils playing with a greater sense of urgency after only getting three shots on goal in the 1st period. The early Devils pressure would lead to Bobby Farnham breakaway but Ben Bishop would make a big save on Farnham’s attempt preserving the 1-0 Lightning lead early in the 2nd period. Jonathan Drouin would come to the aid of his goalie later in the 2nd period after Joesph Blandisi would get to close for Drouin’s liking; Blandisi would cheap shot Drouin with a punch giving Tampa their 2nd power play of the game after he would be called for roughing. The Tampa power play struggles would continue as the Devils would kill off the second Lighting man advantage of the night. The Devils would finally solve Ben Bishop after a lucky deflection by Sergey Kalinin would completely confuse the Lightning goalie who had no chance to stop it before it went into the net tying the game at 1-1. New Jersey would continue to pressure the Tampa Bay offensive zone, until Tampa’s Valtteri Filppula sprung a beautiful counter-attack hitting Tampa center Cedric Paquette with a pass, which he would blast past Keith Kinkaid to give the Lightning the 2-1 lead late in the 2nd period. The Lightning would take their 2-1 lead into the 2nd intermission, and maintain their shots on goal advantage 17-14 after two periods.
The 3rd period began with Tampa’s Jonathan Drouin continuing to build on his strong play in the 2nd period with a big shot immediately after the opening faceoff, while he did not score on the shot it would set the tone for the Lightning that the youngster was back and ready to contribute. Drouin would get another chance a little later in the 3rd period after he would force a turnover in the neutral zone and get a pass from Vladislav Namestnikov burying a sneaky shot into the New Jersey net, to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead. The Devils were not ready to let the Lightning leave the Prudential center with an easy win as Sergey Kalinin would get his second goal of the night after he beat Ben Bishop with a close range shot cutting the Tampa lead back to 3-2 midway through the 3rd period. New Jersey instigator Joseph Blandisi would draw his third penalty of the night as he and Tampa’s Vladislav Namestnikov would both be sent off for roughing giving the teams two minutes of four on four hockey late in the 3rd period. Ben Bishop would prevent a few late flurries from the Devils, and Valtteri Filppula would bury the empty net goal securing a 4-2 Lightning win and home ice for their opening round playoff series. The teams would end up tied for shots on goal at 22 apiece for the game.
The Lightning would improve to 46-30-5, with 97 points. The Devils would fall to 37-36-8, with 82 points on the year.
The Lightning will finish their regular season in Canada as they take on the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, April 9th. The game can be seen locally on SUN sports with a 7:00 pm puck drop.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
- Jonathan Drouin – The much maligned but highly touted young prospect played better than anyone in the Tampa fan base or organization could have hoped for upon his first game back after his hiatus. Drouin settled down after some early 1stperiod jitters to draw a power play for his team, provide multiple scoring chances, and most importantly buried the game winning goal. If Drouin has bought back into what the Lightning are selling, and his teammates & coaches can forgive the mistakes of a young kid learning his way around the league; a situation that seemed beyond fixable only a few months ago could be salvaged. Drouin has the potential to play a key role in a Lightning playoff run, that will need help from all four lines if they are to have any hopes of making another run.
- Cedric Paquette– The hard charging center played his type of game when the Bolts needed help from their depleted scoring lines. Pacquette was physical in his forecheck, and buried a big a goal to regain the lead for the Lightning which they would never relinquish.
- Sergey Kalinin – He did everything he could to provide the offense the Devils have lacked all season by scoring two goals but it wasn’t enough as he got no scoring support from his teammates.
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