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Despite overcoming another slow start, special teams prove costly for Bolts

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

In recent games, the Tampa Bay Lightning have displayed a nasty habit of falling behind early. On March 1, they fell behind 2-0 in the opening period before rallying to beat Ottawa 5-2. It happened again on March 3 when another slow start saw them fall into another two-goal deficit in the first before losing 5-1 to Pittsburgh. 

Sunday’s opening game of a six-game road trip saw the Lightning go down 1-0 at the first intermission before emerging with a 6-3 victory over Chicago, but on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets (25-22-10, 60 points), the dreaded slow start reared its ugly head again. Tampa Bay (37-13-6, 80 points) fell behind 2-0 in the first period again, roared back to tie it, but saw their special teams let them down in the third period of a 7-4 defeat at the Canada Life Centre.

While the Lightning overcame that slow start, some bad habits continue to creep into their game. Puck management continues to be an issue at times. Turnovers keep happening at inopportune moments. Defensive lapses have been covered up by the goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy, but even he can’t stop everything. Even though that slow start wasn’t the reason they lost this game, you’d like to see the Lightning fix their issues that have cropped up since the Stadium Series game in Nashville.

Another uneven start leads to an eventful first period

After the opening 20 minutes, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry probably had a lot to say to their teams at the intermission, and not all of it was positive. At times, the Lightning got pinned into their own zone and didn’t seem to have much in the way of structure, giving up a number of high-quality scoring chances. On the other side, the Jets looked sloppy in the neutral zone, committing a couple of costly turnovers that led to a pair of goals. The result: A wild and loose first period ending with a 3-3 score and Winnipeg holding a 12-11 edge in shots on goal.

The Lightning’s uneven start led to goals from Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry. Scheifele, who looked particularly impressive in the first period, knocked a rebound home after a shot from the point hit the post at the 4:19 mark. Only 1:52 later, Lowry finished off another shift with a rebound goal of his own for a 2-0 lead. Tampa Bay cut the Winnpeg lead to 2-1 with 8:10 left on the clock thanks to Ryan McDonagh. Following a steal in the neutral zone, McDonagh worked a give-and-go with Mathieu Joseph. He then roofed a gorgeous shot past Hellebuyck for his third of the season. However, Winnipeg regained their two-goal lead with 5:24 to when Paul Stastny’s shot from the slot squeaked through Vasilevskiy.

Regaining their mojo just before the intermission

Despite the less-than-ideal start, the Lightning refused to let that get them down. Only 1:25 after Stastny’s tally, Alex Killorn breathed life into the Bolts with his 17th of the season. Another Jets turnover in the neutral zone proved costly, as Zach Bogosian, making his return to the lineup after missing 15 games, gloved a puck down in the neutral zone. He worked it to Steven Stamkos in the neutral zone, who promptly dished it to Corey Perry along the right wing. Perry then found Killorn driving the net, feeding him with a perfect setup, leading to Killorn roofing it for the goal.

Tampa Bay only needed 1:29 to tie the game, as Anthony Cirelli dropped the puck back to Nikita Kucherov along the right wing. Kucherov drew coverage towards him before passing it to Victor Hedman. Hedman skated into the high slot and buried a laser of a shot past Hellebuyck for his 14th of the season.

Fewer goals in the second period, but no lack of chances

Whatever each team’s respective coach said to their teams during the first intermission apparently worked, as the pace of the game slowed down significantly during the middle stanza. A game featuring frequent odd-man rushes and high-danger chances turned into one featuring more structure. Although the quantity of chances took a dip, the quality seemed to increase. Cirelli and Killorn each made power moves to the net, only to be denied by Hellebuyck.

On Winnipeg’s end, Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois each saw good chances foiled by Vasilevskiy. However, none of them quite topped Vasilevskiy’s left pad save on a Kyle Connor rocket from the right circle during a late power play. That power play became a 5-on-3 for the Jets following a questionable slashing call on Mikhail Sergachev, but the Lightning’s penalty killers came up with a huge kill, and soon after, Sergachev collected a pass from Stamkos after getting out of the box, but put a shot just wide.

Special teams proves to be Tampa Bay’s undoing

Early in the third period, Pat Maroon drew a hooking penalty at the 3:38 mark, but the Bolts found themselves unable to take advantage of the power play despite creating a few quality chances. A few minutes later, Hedman ended up in the box for hooking as well, but unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the Jets took advantage of their power play chance. Connor put a shot on net that Vasilevskiy stopped. However, the rebound bounced just out of the reach of the Lightning netminder, and Dubois pounced on it, hammering it home to put Winnipeg up 4-3. At the 8:12 mark, another hooking call led to another Lightning power play. Much like their previous power play in the period, Tampa Bay came up empty. Unlike that man-advantage, they gave up a shorthanded tally, as Connor jumped on an ill-timed Lightning turnover.

What you saw was Kucherov blowing a tire, which led to Connor swooping in, showing off some slick mitts, deking to his backhand, and scoring his 34th of the season to extend the Jets’ lead to 5-3. With both teams playing 4-on-4 hockey, Tampa Bay pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra skater with under six minutes to go for a 5-on-4 advantage, but the tactic didn’t work, as Josh Morrissey scored into an empty net. Even though Ross Colton got one back for the Bolts on a deflection, Winnipeg tacked on another empty netter, this one from Stastny for the last goal of the game and a 7-4 final.

The Lightning’s road trip continues into Western Canada when they take on the Calgary Flames on Thursday night from the Scotiabank Saddledome. Puck drops at 9 pm EST.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Mark Scheifele – Scored one goal, added three assists, and could have had a hat trick with the number of scoring chances he generated.

2nd Star: Kyle Connor – Tallied a shorthanded goal, tacked on an assist, and notched a game-high five shots on goal.

3rd Star: Pierre-Luc Dubois – Scored the game-winning PPG in the third period and also recorded five shots on goal.

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