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Last-second burst lifts Lightning past Senators in OT

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

As Tampa Bay Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli raced down the ice with a sudden burst of energy, the roar of the Amalie Arena crowd built up. The 22-year-old Cirelli bore down on Ottawa Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg on a breakaway, looking to end Tuesday night’s game in the dying seconds of overtime. Earlier this season, Cirelli found himself in a similar situation, only to have a goal called back after crashing into the opposition’s goaltender.

Fortunately for Cirelli and the Lightning (17-12-3, 37 points), this particular collision occurred after the puck had crossed the goal line following an impressive burst of speed. Cirelli’s seventh goal of the season, which took place with 19 seconds left in 3-on-3 overtime, put a massive exclamation point on a much-needed 4-3 win over the Senators (14-18-3) on home ice.

This was one of those games that looked like it was following an age-old script that’s been around as long as hockey itself. The kind of script where one team outplays the other and dominates shots on goal and puck possession only to lose due to a weird bounce or a hot goaltender. For Lightning fans, Cirelli’s speedy OT burst served up a huge sigh of relief following a game in which the Bolts out-shot the Sens 40-28, controlled the puck for long stretches, and created the majority of scoring chances. And it was a game the Lightning nearly gave away.

Tampa Bay started this game with a big burst of energy

During the opening 10 minutes, the talent disparity between the Lightning and Senators was on full display. The Bolts came out flying against Ottawa and didn’t let up. It was vintage Lightning hockey, using their speed, puck possession, and crisp passing to create multiple high-danger chances. However, Hogberg was up to the task. He kicked out his right pad to deny Ondrej Palat off a brilliant feed from Victor Hedman. A short time later, Mathieu Joseph sprung Carter Verhaeghe with a stretch pass. Verhaeghe found Tyler Johnson cutting to the net, but Hogberg came up with another fantastic save.

However, the Lightning finally broke through at the 7:27 mark. A sensational passing sequence led to Hedman cutting to the net and deking Hogberg out of position. He slipped the puck through the crease, but Mark Borowiecki kept the puck out of the net with his stick. However, during the chaos, Hogberg lost his stick. As the Sens attempted to break out, Nikita Kucherov stepped up and chipped the puck on net. Hogberg wasn’t expecting a shot and was caught off guard as the puck slipped by him for Kucherov’s 11th of the season. Up to this point, the Lightning looked dominant and Kucherov showed no ill effects after leaving Saturday’s game due to a lower-body injury. As we’ll find out later, this wouldn’t be the last we’d see of Kucherov tonight, for better or worse.

Ottawa turns the tables, but the Lightning eventually regained the lead

At 11:05, the Senators finally found life as Borowiecki’s shot from the point eluded Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy through traffic and beat the Bolts’ goaltender from long range, tying this game up 1-1. Ottawa proceeded to tilt momentum back in their favor, generating more chances and creating more time in the offensive zone.

Despite the momentum swing, the Lightning weathered the storm and eventually regained the lead with 2:38 left in the period. Pat Maroon fought off a check from Cody Goloubef behind the Senators’ net and worked the puck to Yanni Gourde below the goal line. Gourde promptly sent a brilliant pass in front to Cedric Paquette, who made no mistake in burying his fourth of the season for a 2-1 lead. Despite holding a 12-11 edge in shots on goal, the Lightning owned a much more lopsided edge in shot attempts, as according to Natural Stat Trick, they held a 28-12 lead in that category after one period.

Building on the lead…….only to give momentum right back

Ottawa found themselves on the power play just 1:23 into the second period when Vasilevskiy took a tripping penalty on Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Despite being shorthanded, the Lightning’s penalty killers yielded nothing. Just nine seconds after the Sens’ man-advantage ended, Brayden Point delivered this gem.

Point started off the rush and worked it to Stamkos in the neutral zone. Stamkos returned the puck back to Point, who turned on the afterburners and burst into the Senators’ zone. As he moved down the right wing, he ripped a shot past Hogberg for his 13th of the season, extending Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-1 at the 3:32 mark.

Despite holding a two-goal lead, the Lightning’s recent troubling trend of giving up goals soon after scoring them continued. Just 29 seconds after Point’s goal, Logan Brown handed momentum right back to the Senators. Chris Tierney carried the puck into Tampa Bay’s zone and dropped it to Erik Brannstrom. Brannstrom stopped in the right circle and sent a pass that bounced off Mikhail Sergachev and rolled to Brown in the slot. Nobody in a Bolts uniform picked up Brown, who beat Vasilevskiy for his sixth of the season.

The Lightning controlled shots, but Ottawa held the edge in high-danger chances and tied it up

Through two periods of play, Tampa Bay owned a 26-19 edge in shots on goal and 51-28 lead in shot attempts. However, Ottawa owned the high-danger chances in the middle period, creating seven to the Bolts’ two. In the opening period, Tampa Bay held an 8-2 advantage in high-danger chances. Despite the Senators having better chances, the Lightning still owned the advantage in overall puck possession, keeping control in Ottawa’s zone for longer stretches. Unfortunately for the Lightning, they couldn’t take advantage, eventually leading to the Sens tying it up.

Kucherov had been brilliant up to this point, creating chances, making excellent choices with the puck, and being in the middle of the action. However, his egregious turnover at his own blue line led to a breakaway chance for Anthony Duclair. Duclair raced down the ice and beat Vasilevskiy with 4:14 to go, tying things up 3-3 with his 19th of the season. The play was indicative of the Lightning’s play since the month of December began. We’ve seen the Bolts play well for long stretches, but when they’ve made mistakes, they seem to end up in the back of their net.

Kucherov remained on the bench after the turnover

Over the course of the third period and overtime, Kucherov’s absence from the ice became impossible to avoid. He was at the far end of the bench with his gloves off and the speculation began. Was he being benched? Did he re-aggravate the lower-body injury suffered in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Washington? He played just one shift in the second period after that turnover and one shift in the third period. When asked about it after the game, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper essentially confirmed after the game was over that he sat the reigning Hart Trophy winner.

“As a coach you have to make decisions and what was best for us to win tonight. It was our decision,” said Cooper. He’s a huge part of our team, it could be anybody.”

The Lightning continued their burst of dominant play, but a double-minor nearly cost them

Despite continuing to hold a distinct edge in puck possession and shots on goal, Tampa Bay found themselves unable to solve Hogberg in the third period. At the 9:51 mark, Steven Stamkos took a double-minor for high-sticking, giving Ottawa a four-minute power play and a chance to take the lead. In spite of that, the Lightning’s penalty killers came up big, and when a shot or two got through, Vasilevskiy was there to make a save when needed.

During overtime, the Lightning mostly continued to maintain their stranglehold on the puck, creating a few really good looks at the net during the 3-on-3 overtime session. However, the Senators’ nearly came away with the win when Jean-Gabriel Pageau flew down the ice on a breakaway. Vasilevskiy turned the shot aside, eventually setting up Cirelli’s incredible effort on the overtime winner.

The Lightning will return to action Thursday night when they welcome the Dallas Stars to Amalie Arena at 7 pm.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Anthony Cirelli – Scored the game-winner in overtime on a spectacular individual effort.

2nd Star: Cedric Paquette – Finished the night with a goal, three shots on goal, and posted a plus-1 rating.

3rd Star: Anthony Duclair – Tied the game 3-3 for Ottawa late in the second period.

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