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Hitting The Road On a Winning Note (Barely)

After their win Tuesday against Columbus, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced the Vancouver Canucks tonight at Amalie Arena. The Canucks got off to a sluggish start to say the least. Winning only four of their first 13 games, they have worked hard to climb out of that hole. Vancouver is still 10 points out of the last Western Conference playoff spot and will prove to be a tougher test than Columbus. For the Lightning, this game is the last home game before a challenging five game road trip. They are currently on an eight game home winning streak. Can Tampa win tonight so they are hitting the road on the upswing?  They will if they win their ninth straight at home.

The Lightning will have their work cut out for them on this upcoming road trip. It begins in St. Louis then moves to the west coast with Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Except for Vancouver, the other teams are serious playoff contenders. It won’t get any easier once the team returns home with a three game set that includes Minnesota, Boston and Los Angeles. All three seemingly headed for the playoffs. Keeping the remaining January schedule in mind puts tonight’s game against Vancouver in the must win category. Knowing the tough schedule ahead, will the Lightning get the two points for a win? Will the Lightning respond accordingly?

Getting Started

In net for Vancouver is the recently acquired Collin Delia. Signed as a  free agent over the summer, Delia was called up from the AHL in December and has started four games for the Canucks. He is 3-1 and helping Vancouver in their quest to climb the standings. For Tampa, it is old reliable – Andrei Vasilevskiy who is 17-10-1 this season. Less than five minutes into the game two things were apparent. This is a very fast Canuck team and secondly they were looking to win tonight. As a result of these factors, the Canucks scored the first goal of the game. Conor Garland pounced on a juicy rebound and lit the lamp behind Vasilevskiy to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead. If the consecutive home winning streak is to continue, the Lightning will need something to energize them.

By the time the Lightning registered their first shot on net, the visitors already had eight to go long with their goal. No question, the speed of the Canucks had the Lightning playing back on their heels. Halfway through the first period a potentially scary moment happened. Vlad Namestnikov was taken to the corner boards hard and lay prone for a minute. His line mate, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare went after Lane Pederson of the Canucks who hit Namestnikov. They dropped the mitts and they both got in a few licks o each other. In addition to the five minute major for fighting, Bellemare also was called for an instigator penalty. Former Lightning Luke Schenn was called for a holding penalty. For his instigator penalty, Bellemare was also given a 10 minute misconduct.

Will the Lightning Respond?

Would this scrap light a fire under the Lightning players? Working on the powerplay after a Vancouver penalty, the first powerplay unit was uninspiring. Despite that less than stellar start with the extra man, the second unit worked hard and were rewarded. Mikail Sergachev blasted a shot from the blue line after taking a pass from Ross Colton. Standing right in front of the net was Corey Perry who deflected the Sergachev missile past Delia to tie the game at one. 

So, the first period ended as it began, in a tie. Frankly, the Lightning were fortunate to be tied after one period. Especially because the Canucks seemed to win every puck battle and were faster than the Lightning up and down the ice.

Time to Get It In Gear

If the nine game home winning streak was to stay intact, the Lightning had to get it going. The longer you keep the visitors in the game, the more difficult it can become. Surely, we would see the Lightning wrestle control of this game. Sure enough, Alex Killorn found the puck in the slot after a Nick Perbix shot was blocked.  Killorn wheeled around and sniped the puck past Delia to put the Lightning up 2-1.

Still, that lead didn’t last long as former Lightning J.T. Miller took a two line pass from Quinn Hughes. Miler found himself going in on Vasilevskiy all alone and slipped the puck past him to tie the game at two.

In the last five minutes of the second period, the Lightning took control as Nikita Kucherov snapped a rebound of a Steven Stamkos shot to make it 4-2. Then, right before the end of the period, Brandon Hagel lit the lamp after a nifty backhand no look pass from Killorn. All of a sudden, the Lightning were up 5-2 at the end of two periods.

Hitting the Road on all Cylinders?

With a two goal lead entering the third period, it was pretty undeniable that the Lightning would get the win. To their credit, they kept their foot to the pedal. On the power play, Stamkos blasted his 499th career goal past Delia to give his team an insurmountable 5-2 lead. Heading to the five game road trip, the Lightning showed they’re ready to meet that challenge. Hitting the road after two consecutive home wins making it nine straight in the friendly confines of Amalie Arena gives them the proper mindset for the upcoming games.

The Canucks also deserved credit for not throwing in the towel. With a little under six minutes remaining, Hughes wristed a shot past Vasilevskiy to cut the Lightning lead to 5-3. Just under the three minute mark, Vancouver pulled their goalie. Jon Cooper immediately put Stamkos on the ice to see if he could score his 500th. Perhaps the focus should have on the game itself. Clearly, the Canucks figured they still had a chance. When Elias Pettersson slapped a shot past Vasilevskiy to make it a one goal game, 5-4 the Amalie faithful was on needles and pins. Would Stamkos score his 500th goal? Would the Lightning be strong enough to close out this game?

In a final frenzied 90 seconds, with a 6 on 4 due to a Killorn penalty and the pulled goalie, Vancouver made it interesting but the game ended 5-4 Lightning and their nine game home winning streak is still alive.

Three Stars

  1. Steven Stamkos – 1 goal, 1 assist and the goal was his 499th in his illustrious career
  2. Alex Killorn – 1 goal and 1 assist
  3. Brandon Hagel – 1 goal and 1 assist

What’s Next

The first game in the five game road trip is Saturday in St. Louis against the Blues. Puck drop at 8:00 p.m.

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