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Crashing The Net: The Vasilevskiy Era Begins

With the trade of Ben Bishop, arguably the best goalie in Tampa Bay Lightning (28-25-8) history, the Andrei Vasilevskiy era has begun. The Lightning also traded forward Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula this week, and it certainly has shaken up their foundation. Tampa Bay is, as of this morning, five points from a wild card spot, with the path to it clogged by several competing clubs. In situations like this, there’s only one thing you can do and that is just keep winning. This week, Tampa Bay gets three chances to do that against the Carolina Hurricanes (25-25-9), Pittsburgh Penguins (38-15-8), and Buffalo Sabres (26-26-11). Can they take down these teams and crawl that much closer to their dream of the playoffs? Let’s take a look at the week ahead with Crashing The Net!

Last Week:

Edmonton Oilers (34-22-8)
When: Tuesday, February 21st – 7:30PM
Result: Win
Score: 4-1
Shots: 28-21 TBL
Power Play: 0/1
Penalty Kill: 1/1
Key Moment: The big moment here was Nikita Kucherov’s early third period goal that put the Lightning up 3-1. With this lead, Tampa Bay was able to tighten up defensively and claim two precious points. This would also be Ben Bishop’s last game with the club and he was stellar to close out his campaign with Tampa Bay.

Calgary Flames (34-26-4)
When: Thursday, February 23rd – 7:30PM
Result: Loss
Score: 3-2
Shots: 25-25 EVEN
Power Play: 1/3
Penalty Kill: 3/4
Key Moment: Sean Monahan would net his 100th career goal and give his team a 2-1 lead in the second. Unfortunately, the Bolts could not best Calgary goaltender Brian Elliott in the third until it was too late and lost this tilt to their 2004 Stanley Cup opponents by a score of 3-2.

Ottawa Senators (33-22-6)
When: Monday, February 27th – 7:30PM
Result: Win
Score: 5-1
Shots: 40-34 OTT
Power Play: 3/3
Penalty Kill: 4/5
Key Moment: Much uncertainty went into this game as it was the first since Bishop and Boyle were traded from the team. However, this one was almost all a Russian connection, as Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy put forth their best performances of the season in this one. It was hard to tell which player had the better night, but I’m going to have to give it to Kucherov, who claimed a natural hat trick in the second period and yanked this one out of the Senators’ hands. This was such a huge victory for the Lightning as it was against a division opponent who is currently above them in the standings.

Lightning Statistics From Last Week:

Games Played: 3
Wins: 2
Losses: 1
Points: 4 out of 6
Goals For: 11
Goals Allowed: 5
Power Play: 4/7 = 57.1%
Penalty Kill: 8/10 = 80.0%

Upcoming Games: 

Carolina Hurricanes (25-25-9)
Where: Amalie Arena, Florida
When: Wednesday, March 1st – 7:00PM
Where to Watch: SunS, FSS

To start off the week, the Lightning face the Carolina Hurricanes, who currently sit at last place in the Metropolitan Division. This will be the third and final meeting between the Bolts and Canes with the series split between the two clubs. The Hurricanes have hit some road bumps in recent weeks as they are 1-5-2 in their last eight contests and are fresh off a lost to the Florida Panthers (29-23-10) last night. While most of their statistics are mediocre, Carolina’s penalty kill is anything but. Combined with great discipline and sound structure, the Hurricane penalty kill is their eye of the storm for two reasons. They have been the stingiest team in the NHL at allowing penalties and have mastered the art of clogging the shooting lanes.

When the Hurricanes put forth a stone wall, the Lightning arrive with catapults, as their potent power play should be ready for the challenge. With the second best power play in the league, Tampa Bay will need to strike when the meager opening is given and not give up anything themselves. Since these chances are rare, the pressure will fall upon their five-on-five play. The Bolts will need to do everything they can to make sure that part of their game flourishes on Wednesday night. The greatest threat they face is underestimating a team that has bested them once already this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins (38-15-8)
Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh
When: Friday, March 3rd – 7:00PM
Where to Watch: SunS, ROOT

Friday night will be a fight for the Lighting as they face the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tampa Bay has coughed up two games to their 2015-16 Eastern Conference Final foes already this season and could save face by defeating them here and avoiding the season sweep. When looking at the Penguins, the mountain seems steep. Pittsburgh is an offensive firepower behind stars Sidney Crosby (34G, 33A) and Evgeni Malkin (26G, 36A) and a fearsome supporting cast, which has put up the most goals in the NHL at this point in the season.

This game will really put the Lightning’s newly promoted goaltender to the test early in his reign as “the guy” for the Lightning. Luckily for them, Vasilevskiy has seen his share of Pittsburgh and has often risen to big moments in his career against them. It’s a good thing, because Tampa Bay will need him at his best, as he will be a focal point for how they fare against the juggernaut that is the Penguins on Friday.

Buffalo Sabres (26-26-11)
Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo
When: Saturday, March 4th – 7:00PM
Where to Watch: SunS

To close out the week, the Lightning clash with the Buffalo Sabres who have lost the last four games before hosting Arizona on Thursday night. The Sabres are a mere one point behind Tampa Bay and find themselves in the same boat as they enter desperation mode. These two teams meet four times this season with the Lightning already holding two wins over the Sabres. With the success the Bolts have found against Buffalo so far, they’ll need to kick it up a notch as now these teams meet with the same savage look in their eyes.

That isn’t where these clubs similarities end though as both have put up iffy numbers, but have managed to excel on their power play. Buffalo is fourth in the NHL when it comes to the man advantage and has stolen several games already this season. To continue their winning ways against the Sabres, the Lighting will have to have their cake and eat it too, meaning they’ll need to click on the power play and not give up any opportunities themselves.

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