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Depth leads the way as Lightning clamp down for ninth win in a row

Alex Walworth | The Scrum Sports

Despite boasting an eight-game winning streak entering Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning returned home with a litany of injuries. Following road wins over Columbus and Pittsburgh by identical 2-1 scores in overtime, the Bolts needed help from their depth players. Without Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Anthony Cirelli, Ryan McDonagh, and Jan Rutta in the lineup, the Lightning welcomed the Edmonton Oilers to town, a team sporting a record of 10-3-2 in their last 15.

At various points this week, the Lightning recalled Mathieu Joseph, Alexander Volkov, and Cameron Gaunce from AHL Syracuse. With the injuries, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper shuffled his lines. Despite the lineup changes, some familiar faces from the Bolts bottom six forwards proved why depth is so important.

Pat Maroon and Cedric Paquette ended goal droughts while Yanni Gourde scored for the second straight game. At the other end, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 30 shots as the Lightning (38-15-5, 81 points) beat the Oilers (30-21-6, 66 points) 3-1 at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay’s winning streak now sits at nine in a row and the victory pulls them within one point of the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division. Mike Smith made 34 saves in the loss for Edmonton. Not only did the Lightning earn crucial depth scoring, but they also clamped down defensively, holding the opposition to under three goals for the seventh straight game.

On top of that, the Lightning are now 21-2-1 in their last 24 games, while Vasilevskiy is 18-0-2 in his last 18 starts.

Plenty of offensive pressure for the Lightning in the opening period

With the lines reshuffled due to the injuries to Stamkos, Kucherov, and Cirelli, Tampa Bay found themselves needing contributions from everyone. While the first period featured no goals, the Lightning largely controlled the action through the first 20 minutes. Holding a 14-10 lead in shots on goal and a 20-16 advantage in shot attempts, the Bolts applied plenty of pressure on Smith early on. The line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Gourde turned out to be particularly impressive.

Although Smith turned out to be up to the task between the pipes early on, he had some luck go his way. Tyler Johnson found himself with a wide-open net, but unfortunately for Johnson, things didn’t go quite as planned.

Despite that missed opportunity, Tampa Bay largely held the Oilers in check. Although Edmonton made a bit of a push in the final minutes of the period, Tampa Bay entered the intermission holding a clear edge in scoring chances (10-4) and high-danger opportunities (5-1) per Natural Stat Trick.

An ugly, unnecessary moment

At one point, Oilers winger Zack Kassian and Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak were tangled up along the boards when Edmonton’s Josh Archibald lost an edge and went sliding into both players, knocking them to the ice and pinning Archibald underneath. While Cernak got to his feet, Kassian delivered a kicking motion with his skate to Cernak’s chest

While Cernak wasn’t injured, Kassian can probably expect a call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for this sequence. Plays like this are dirty, dangerous, and simply unnecessary even with the amount of equipment NHL players wear.

Depth players begin making an impact

Over the last month, Gourde’s 35-game goal drought became a hot topic. With his goalless slump in the rear-view mirror, it was time for another Bolt to end a goal drought of his own. At the 4:29 mark Luke Schenn put a shot on net that bounced off Gaunce and traveled behind the net. Maroon pounced on the loose puck, reaching back into the crease and jamming it past Smith for his seventh goal, putting Tampa Bay up 1-0. The goal ended a 10-game goal drought for Maroon, who last scored on January 11 in a 1-0 win at Philadelphia.

Soon after, the Edmonton began pushing back, earning the equalizer at the 9:36 mark. Caleb Jones worked the puck to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the neutral zone, with Nugent-Hopkins taking it into the Lightning’s zone down the right wing. Nugent-Hopkins dropped it to a trailing Jones, whose initial shot got blocked by Palat. However, Jones picked up the rebound and hit the back of the net on the follow-up, beating Vasilevskiy to make it 1-1. At regular speed, it appeared as though Leon Draisaitl might have been offside, but instant replay showed he stayed onside while earning a secondary assist on the play.

Gourde makes it back-to-back games with a goal

During an Oilers power play, Draisaitl, the league’s leading scorer, attempted to stick-handle past a group of Tampa Bay players at the Lightning blue line. Paquette harassed him into a turnover, Gourde pounced on it, and he was off to the races. Gourde deked to his forehand and beat Smith for his eighth goal of the season and the Lightning’s third shorthanded tally of the season. The Bolts’ last shorthanded goal occurred on November 25, the last time Gourde scored before his overtime winner in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

After Jones’s goal, Edmonton couldn’t keep up their surge that they built up leading to that goal and after it, as the Lightning owned a 2-1 lead heading into the second intermission.

Vasilevskiy comes up big while the Bolts clamp down in the final 20 minutes

During the third period, Schenn made a couple of excellent defensive plays to keep the score 2-1. He tied up Nugent-Hopkins’s stick as the Oilers forward was about to convert a pass into an open Lightning net. Moments later, Draisaitl fired a shot on net that Vasilevskiy turned aside, but squirted loose. Schenn alertly cleared the puck out of danger to preserve Tampa Bay’s lead.

While the Oilers made their push for the tie, the Lightning remained committed to their defensive structure, something the team has made a conscious effort to do throughout the season. Rather than take chances to extend the lead and expose Vasilevskiy, the Bolts remained committed to limiting Oiler opportunities. With the Edmonton net empty in the final minutes, Point and Paquette found themselves on a 2-on-0 with a yawning cage awaiting an insurance goal. Point made an unselfish play to set up Paquette for the empty net tally. Paquette’s goal, with 55.5 seconds left, ended a stretch of 25 games without a goal for him. Before tonight, his last goal occurred on December 17 against the Ottawa Senators.

The Lightning return to action on Saturday afternoon when they host the Philadelphia Flyers in a matinee contest. Puck drops at 4 pm.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Yanni Gourde – Scored the game-winning shorthanded goal in the second period.

2nd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 29 of 30 shots

3rd Star: Mike Smith – Turned aside 34 of 36 shots faced, as the Lightning sealed the game with an empty net goal on their 37th shot.

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