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Killer’s Homecoming Overshadowed by Strong Lightning Performance

Scrum Sports phot by Wayne Masut

An old friend came by to Amalie Arena. Now wearing the colors of the Anaheim Ducks, Alex Killorn who played 11 seasons in a Lightning sweater. An integral part of two Stanley Cup Championships. As always, a great and well-deserved  video tribute on the importance of Killer’s role in the recent Lightning success was played. Naturally, the Amalie faithful didn’t disappoint as they stood and cheered and gave proper respect to the very popular Killer. 

The Lightning come into tonight’s game winners of 7 of their last 11 games. Andrei Vasilevskiy gets the start in goal for the Lightning and on their ongoing revolving defenseman door, Max Crozier is making his NHL debut tonight. In net for the Ducks is Lukas Dostal. Anaheim is sputtering coming into the game, losing four of their last five games. 

Even Steven

The beginning of the game was what most were expecting. A kind of hot team in the Lightning dominating play against a struggling Ducks team. The visitors bent often but didn’t break. Dostal made a couple of good saves on some good scoring chances. 

The frustration on the part of the Lightning seemed to energize the Ducks. For a good few minutes in the middle of the first, Anaheim dictated play. They dumped the puck, then they chased after it and their forecheck led to a few giveaways by the Lightning. 

Towards the end of the first period, the Lightning started to take control offensively. Despite some good looks on the net for both teams, the period ended as it began, a scoreless tie. This game was so even that both teams put 11 shots on goal and both won 8 face-offs in the period.

Powerful Period of Play

Much like the initial period, the middle period saw the Lightning taking control. There were a couple of shifts that saw the Ducks defenders on life support because Tampa enjoyed extended amounts of time in the Anaheim zone. Just past the four minute mark, Austin Watson of the Lightning and Ross Johnston of the Ducks looked like they were going to drop the gloves for a fight. The referees got in between the two quickly and prevented the fisticuffs. Then Johnston does what only can be described as a bonehead move. He throws a haymaker over the referee and hits Watson. With that move, Johnston put the Lightning power play on the ice.

The Lightning power play despite recent struggles is still among the best in the league. A minute into the power play opportunity, Victor Hedman got a blast off from the high slot and Dostal never seemed to see the puck. This goal opened the scoring tonight giving the Lightning the early lead, 1-0. 

After Hedman’s goal, the game was getting chippy. These teams were playing each other like mortal enemies and not two teams that only see each other twice over 82 games. Rookie defenseman for the Lightning Emil Lilleberg laid a clean and thunderous open ice hit on Brett Leason. People in every corner of Amalie Arena heard that hit. Nothing followed immediately after but on the ensuing television time out, Johnston had his second bonehead move of the period. He skated to the Lightning bench and had words for Lilleberg. Coach Jon Cooper came to the kid’s aid as well as Watson who skated up to Johnston. I’m sure he said something to the effect of “shut yer yap”. 

More Power in this Period

Within the next five minutes, the Ducks put the Lightning back on the power play. A whole 45 seconds later, Steven Stamkos made them pay with the team’s second power play goal of the game. Not his usual blast from the dot but Stamkos jumped on a rebound and snuck it past Dostal to put Tampa up 2-0. 

Despite their recent struggles, the Ducks were playing for the win. It was clear they weren’t going to go away quietly. Add that to the extra oomph in the hitting since the Lilleberg hit and after a whistle in front of the Lightning net, Hedman went after their bonehead (Johnston) by slashing his stick in half. In the ensuing scrum, both Johnston and Hedman earned matching roughing penalties. Hedman also earned a 10 minute misconduct. Still, Anaheim went on the power play because of the initial slashing penalty by Hedman. In the first 20 seconds of the power play, Frank Vatrano scored a goal for the Ducks, cutting the Lightning lead in half making it 2-1. 

Answering that goal was now the priority for the Lightning. They can’t allow the Ducks to have a chance in this game. Being good guests, Anaheim gave the home team another power play chance. Sure enough, Stamkos scored his second goal of the game and increased the Lightning lead to 3-1. 

The Last 20

During the final period of regulation, the Lightning had to keep their foot on the gas. Sure, Anaheim is struggling in the middle of a long road trip but if they can somehow stay out of the box, they can crawl back in this game. The challenge for the Lightning was to prevent that. Best way to do that is to not allow them to maintain any sustainable possession of the puck. They can’t score if you got the biscuit. 

The Lightning defense held steady. Their backchecking was very good and the team defense seemed to be completely in sync. In the second period, they only allowed Anaheim 5 shots on goal. They played in the third period determined to allow even less shots in the final period. Ultimately, they did as Anaheim only got 4 shots on goal in the third period.

Just as the halfway point of the period approached, Calvin deHaan shot a sputtering shot towards the Ducks goal. Somehow, Dostal pulled a Bill Buckner and the puck went under his glove and in the net to put the Lightning up 4-1. 

That goal took the wind out of the Ducks sails. In the waning minutes of the game, Brandon Hagel scored the fifth goal of the game for the good guys. A pass deflected off the skate of a Ducks defender and landed right on Hagel’s stick who slammed the puck past Dostal. 

That was the final score 5-1, Lightning. They have now won 8 of their last 12. Too bad that the highlight of Killorn’s night was the video tribute. He played a lot of important minutes in this town and for this team. The tribute brought back a lot of fantastic memories. For all that in 11 seasons wearing the Lightning blue, we thank you and Godspeed, Alex.

Three Stars 

  1. Steven Stamkos – 2 goals, 1 assist 
  2. Nikita Kucherov – 3 assists – The NHL leader in points making his case for the Hart
  3. Emil Lilleberg – 5 hits, 2 blocked shots – Rookie defenseman making a case for continuing to play.

What’s Next

Thursday night at Amalie against the Minnesota Wild. Game time is 7:00 pm.

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