Slowly but surely the Lightning are beginning to find their game again. Thursday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets was another step in the right direction. Despite Columbus selling off players at the deadline their compete level was high and their defense was stingy. However the Lightning’s D-Corps and overall defensive game was up to the challenge.
Tale of Two Halves
The D-corps and Lightning as a whole started the game off very well. They were quick to pucks and spent a lot of time in the Columbus end. Columbus did a good job defensively but the Lightning were still able to get a few good looks towards the net. Tampa Bay jumped out to 5-0 shot advantage through the first half of the period. However at 8:57 of the first Ondrej Palat took a two-minute minor for Cross checking.
This would be the end of any control the Lightning had in the first period. On the ensuing power-play Seth Jones’ shot from the point found its way past Curtis McElhinney and give Columbus a 1-0 lead. After this point Columbus controlled play for the remainder of the period. They would hold the Lightning to no shots and got six consecutive of their own. Despite this the Lightning D-corps did well to not allow many grade-A chances and go into the locker room only down one.
Columbus puts forth a good effort
Before the game Lightning founder and Radio analyst Phil Esposito said a good effort on the part of Columbus would be good for the Lightning. For a team trying to find their game, and lack luster effort by an opponent does them no good. Coming into Thursday’s game, Columbus had just two wins in their previous 16 games. In last place in the Central the Jackets could have easily packed things in. As usual with a John Tortorella coached team, they did not.
Columbus was able to keep the Lightning to the outside and limit the number of grade-A chances the Lightning had. When they did give up prime scoring opportunities, Elvis Merzlinkins was there to shut the door. He made many good saves throughout the night including robbing D-corps staple Ryan McDonagh.
Per usual Columbus seemed to frustrate the Lightning offensively. For most of the game they were able to keep the Lightning to the outside. Finally, after a couple of power-play opportunities, their were finally able to breakthrough. Yanni Gourde was able to steal the puck in the neutral zone and find Blake Coleman on the opposite wing. Coleman sent a clapper towards the net which bounced off of Merzlinkins’ glove and into the net. This was the turning point in the game as the Lightning started to get more chances at the end of the second and into the third period.
The Lightning would breakthrough again halfway through the third and take the lead for good. Erik Cernak was able to rush into the zone and take a shot. The rebound came to Alex Killorn who was able to find Palat all alone at the circle, who put it past Merzlinkins.
The Lightning were driven by the line of Gourde, Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow. They were Tampa Bay’s best offensive line. Gourde picked up his 8th point in his last nine games and Coleman scored his 9th and 10th goals, including the empty netter to seal the game.
D-corps and defensive game much improved
The Lightning’s d-corps and overall defensive play have been suspect over the past month or so. Although battling some injuries, it has not been the play that lead the Lightning to a Stanley Cup last summer. However, they took another step in improving their game heading into the playoffs. They held Columbus to single digit shots in 2-of-3 periods, most of which were from the outside. They were tight on their coverage and recovered well after turnovers. Most importantly they were able to lock it down after taking the lead.
The Lightning will conclude their season long six game homestand on Sunday against Columbus. A win would secure a winning record on the homestand. A win would also help the Lightning keep pace with the second place Florida Panthers. The Panthers dropped their Thursday game against Carolina and now are only one point ahead of the Bolts. Tampa Bay has a game at hand. Carolina with the win over Florida remains atop the Division with 67 points.
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