BY MATTHEW LITZENBERGER
The Tampa Bay Lightning came into the Saddledome for their first game of a critical four-game west coast road trip looking to capitalize against a Calgary Flames team who ranked dead last in both special team categories with their power play and penalty kill units. On paper the Bolts are getting healthy at a important point of the season; if they had any aspirations of making a serious push; not only into the playoff race but back into the upper echelon of the conference, they would likely need to start the road trip with a win against Calgary.
The 1st period started with the Calgary Flames testing Ben Bishop’s poise in net with back to back odd man rushes that Bishop managed to stop but the rushes seemed to set the tone for the Lightning defense getting caught out of position throughout the 1st. This lack of positioning turned into a early Flames lead when Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman would get caught pinching in, and allow an odd man Calgary rush in which Flames defenseman Mark Giordano fed Center Matt Stajan for an easy goal giving Calgary the 1-0 lead early in the first. The Lightning looked as if they left their skates in Tampa midway through the first as they were a step slow seemingly every defensive shift as Calgary got scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity without any answer from the Lightning offense. Fortunately for Tampa Ben Bishop was able to continue his strong play preventing the litany of Flame shots he faced throughout the 1st. Bishop and the Bolts only good fortunate of the period, would come in the form of a ‘post’ as Flames defenseman Mark Giordano looking for his second point of the night blasted a shot from the blue line that clanked off the cross bar to keep the game at 1-0. The 1st period would end with Flames holding the one goal lead as the Lightning were extremely lucky to be only down one after getting completely dominated on both ends of the ice for the entire period. Calgary also held the shots on goal advantage 13-8 after one.
To say Tampa needed to start the 2nd period with more energy than they demonstrated in the first; would be like asking if beer is a delicious beverage; it should go without saying. The Bolts effort looked improved to start the 2nd but the Flames were still getting the better of them through the neutral zone. The Lightning were determined to get more shots off in the 2nd which they did but midway through the period they were unable to test Flames goalie Kari Ramo with anything that could be considered a dangerous scoring opportunity. Calgary meanwhile continued to pelt Bishop with great angled shots, and hold the puck in the Lightning zone for extended periods of time on de facto power plays since the Bolts defense was unable to regain possession and stop the constant pressure. The pressure again paid off for the Flames as right winger David Jones would give the Flames a 2-0 lead when he found himself all alone in front of the Tampa net with the puck after Mark Giordano for a second time would feed the Calgary goal scorer. Replays would show Lightning center Cedric Paquette completely abandoned his defensive assignment allowing Jones to basically cherry pick in front of Bishop and extend the lead late in the 2nd. The 2nd period would end like the 1st with a few late Bolt chances but the Flames taking the lead into the locker room, except this time it was extended to 2-0. The Lightning did retake the shots on goal advantage 22-20 but most of their shots were from long range or non-threatening to Flames net minder Kari Ramo.
As the 3rd period approached it appeared the Bolts chances at a comeback or even a competitive game would need them to trade jerseys with the Flames after the 2nd, if the previous two periods were any sign of how the game was going to finish. Cedric Paquette made an improbable comeback even more difficult as he took an early tripping penalty to start the 3rd period giving the Flames the first man advantage of the night. The Lightning penalty-kill unit would do their job but not without a scare as Lightning winger JT Brown would take a nasty shot off his forearm that seemed to shake him up but he would continue to play. The Lightning were already playing with a short-bench as they had already lost Ryan Callahan to a lower body injury in the 1st period that he tried to play through in the 2nd and ultimately pulled was from the game to start the 3rd. Victor Hedman nearly cut the deficit to one, midway through the 3rd as he blasted a pass from the blue line off a faceoff draw, but his shot would go wide of Kari Ramo keeping the game at 2-0. Nikita Kucherov on the next shift saw a rebound skip past his stick in front of a open Flames net in what looked like Tampa’s best scoring opportunity of the night slid away along with any real hope of finding a late comeback. The Bolts would manage to get a brief glimpse of hope when Steven Stamkos scored his 17th goal of the season with 1:39 remaining to make it a 2-1 game after Ben Bishop was pulled to give Tampa the extra attacker. The hope would be short lived however, as Flames left winger Lance Bouma would score his first goal of the year on a empty netter ending any comeback plans for the Lightning and giving Calgary the 3-1 win. Tampa would win the shots on goal advantage 31-24 but many of those shots were ineffective or from long range never really testing Kari Ramo.
The Lightning would fall to 19-17-4 on the year and the Flames would improve to a game over .500 at 19-18-2.
The Lightning will return to action on Friday January 8th, as they travel to Edmonton for the second game of their west coast road trip to play the Edmonton Oilers. The game can be seen locally on SUN sports with a 9:00 pm puck drop.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Mark Giordano – The talented defenseman was the facilitator to both of the Flames early goals, as well as had a beautiful shot of his own go off the crossbar. It seemed he was the catalyst anytime the Flames had a great scoring opportunity or an odd man rush. When you get this type play from your blue line it makes your offense a lot easier to run.
2. David Jones– He scored his 8th goal of the season, and ended up being the game winner.
3. Kari Ramo– The Flames net minder allowed one goal while stopping 30 shots, but the Lightning’s offense was so ineffective tonight it’s tough to say if Ramo was dominant or if the Bolts effort doomed their offense. In the end Ramo’s performance was more than enough to get the win, as he did his job and didn’t allow any soft goals.
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