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Bolts take care of business, blank Habs on home ice

Alex Walworth | The Scrum Sports

In the midst of a stretch of five straight games against Atlantic Division foes, the Tampa Bay Lightning were coming off a tough loss on home ice to the Boston Bruins. The Montreal Canadiens came into Tampa on Thursday night having won four of their previous six games. Tampa Bay, losers of five of their last six, needed two points against a Habs team that entered the game seven points out of the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

This wasn’t one of the prettiest games of the season. There weren’t a lot of highlight-reel plays or memorable moments. It won’t be a game that goes down as one of the classics in Lightning history. However, what it turned out to be was a much-needed Lightning victory to help maintain their grip on second place in the Atlantic Division while still keeping the first-place Bruins in their sights.

Andrei Vasilevskiy notched his third shutout of the season with 32 saves while the Lightning (42-20-5, 89 points) got a pair of goals from Victor Hedman and one each from Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov in a 4-0 win over the Canadiens (31-29-9, 71 points) at Amalie Arena. Vasilevskiy only had to make a couple of ten-bell saves, but he came up large when his team needed a stop. While it may not have been their prettiest game, the Lightning didn’t take many unnecessary risks, getting out to an early lead and then preserving it. As a result, the Lightning now sit seven points behind Boston for first place in the Atlantic, while moving 11 points ahead of the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs.

Both teams create chances, but the Lightning cash in

The Lightning carried over their effort from the third period of Tuesday’s game into the early stages of Thursday’s contest. Hedman wasted no time, giving the Lightning a 1-0 lead just 49 seconds into the contest following fantastic puck movement by the top line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Kucherov. Hedman ended up with the puck in the high slot, and with some traffic in front, beat Canadiens goalie Carey Price with a wrist shot from the high slot for his 10th of the season.

Although the Lightning held a 12-8 lead in shots and a 19-13 lead in shot attempts in the opening period, this was a back-and-forth period. The Point line created much of the early chances for Tampa Bay. Soon after Hedman’s goal, the Habs countered with chances of their own. An extended Montreal shift in the Bolts’ zone led to a Zach Bogosian interference penalty. Joel Armia got behind the Lightning’s defense for a partial break on the ensuing power play, only to see Vasilevskiy shut the door. Anthony Cirelli and Killorn combined to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead at 12:40 when Cirelli chipped the puck past a Habs blue-liner, creating a 2-on-1. Cirelli set up Killorn, who whipped a laser beam of a shot past Price for his 25th of the season. The goal also marked Killorn’s 48th point of the season, a new career-high.

Despite trailing, the Canadiens continued to press, with Armia being stopped by Vasilevskiy while he was lying on his side. Charles Hudon and Armia created a 2-on-1 following a Bolts turnover, but Vasilevskiy made another big save. Blake Coleman and Tyler Johnson countered with high-quality opportunities off great puck movement, but Price shut the door.

The Habs begin tilting the ice back in their favor, but the Bolts extend their lead

The second period saw fewer high-danger chances among both teams, but each team took their turns with extended shifts in the opposing zone. Over the first five minutes of the the period, Tampa Bay tilted the ice in their favor, but found themselves unable to dent the back of the net. Johnson nearly put the Bolts up 3-0, but his redirection of a Hedman pass barely missed the net.

However, as time went on, Montreal began taking control of puck possession and shot attempts. Despite the Habs holding a 20-19 lead in shots on goal after 40 minutes, they didn’t create much in the way of high-danger opportunities. When they did get through, Vasilevskiy came through and he got some key shot blocks from his teammates. Montreal picked up a late power play due to a rather dubious call on Kevin Shattenkirk for holding after his attempt to break up a partial breakaway from Jake Evans. However, the Lightning held firm, keeping the Habs from taking advantage.

Kucherov gave the Bolts some breathing room with 1:05 to go when he crashed the net and knocked home a centering feed from Pat Maroon for a 3-0 Tampa Bay lead, his 32nd goal of the season. After the horn sounded to end the period, some shenanigans broke out between the teams, leading to Mikhail Sergachev and Canadiens captain Shea Weber dropping the gloves. Needless to say, Sergachev got the better of this scrap.

Vasilevskiy closes the deal

Over the final two periods of this game, Montreal out-shot the Lightning 24-11, ending the contest with a 32-23 advantage in total shots on net to go along with a 53-38 lead in shot attempts. Despite the disparity, Natural Stat Trick had the high-danger shot attempts at 9-7 in favor of Tampa Bay. Overall, this wasn’t a high-event hockey game. In the third period, the Bolts seemed content to sit back with the lead and preserve it. The Canadiens’ best chances to break Vasilevskiy’s shutout bid came on a late power play, including a Jake Evans shot from the low slot that Vasilevskiy denied.

Ben Chiarot got into a tussle with Coleman with 2:34 to go, picking up a two-minute roughing penalty and a 10-minute misconduct. Hedman put the final cherry on top of this game with a blast from the point on the ensuing power play to put the Bolts up 4-0 and close the deal on this victory, which was only the Lightning’s second in their last seven games.

Tampa Bay returns to action when they begin a three-game road trip this Saturday in Boston for a crucial contest with the Bruins. Puck drops at 7 pm.

For more postgame coverage of tonight’s game, check out The Scrum Sports on YouTube.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 32 shots for his third shutout of the season.

2nd Star: Victor Hedman – Scored twice, giving him 11 goals this season.

3rd Star: Alex Killorn – Tallied his 25th goal of the season and 48th point, the latter being a new career-high.

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