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Lightning Demolish Devils 4-0; Extend Winning Streak

The Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils came into tonight’s game heading in different directions. The Devils have clung to one of the last playoff seeds for most of the year but after dropping four of their last five games, they suddenly found themselves one point behind the 8th seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. The Lightning however continue to ascend the Eastern Conference having won four straight and have seen the reemergence of captain Steven Stamkos offense coincidentally right after his trade rumors finally dismissed by Tampa GM Steve Yzerman. The team’s strategies for their opponent were clear and polar opposites of one another. For the Devils, slow the game down, make the Lightning pay when they make mistakes, and lean on their all-star goalie Cory Schneider to get the win and back into playoff contention.  For the Bolts, play as fast as possible, and force a Devils team who ranks last in the league in goals scored to keep up with their frenetic pace.

 The 1st period started with the both teams attempting to establish their style of play but neither having much success, as both clubs kept turning the puck over in the neutral zone. The Lightning’s fourth line would be the first to get an offensive chance as the pairing of Jonathan Marchessault and Vladislav Namestnikov created some pressure but were unable to get it through the wall of defenseman to test New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider.  The Devils would begin to have some early success against the Lightning forwards who continued to turn the puck over in the neutral zone. One of these neutral zone turnovers allowed the Devils to take advantage of Tampa winger JT Brown who was playing out of position; the play forced Bishop to leave the net wide open to make an initial save, but Devil center Adam Henrique could not tip it into the wide open net keeping the game 0-0 early in the 1st period. The struggling Tampa Bay Lightning power play would get an early chance as Devil left-winger Jordin TooToo was sent off for cross-checking. The subsequent power play would see a few scoring chances but nothing that Devil goalie Cory Schneider was unable to handle, and New Jersey killed the first penalty for the game.  Ben Bishop caused a crazy sequence midway through the 1st period, as he came almost 50 feet out from his net to play a puck off the boards to prevent a Devil scoring opportunity but nearly left the goal wide open. Unfortunately for the Devils, they were unable to corral the puck preventing a scoring chance. Nikita Kucherov the dynamic Lightning winger in his first game back from a lower body injury, nearly broke the 0-0 tie late in the 1st period as he ripped a shot off the near side post, but the rebound settled beneath Schneider and which he covered, before a Lightning forward could push it into the net. Lightning center Alex Killorn made sure the post would not be a factor on the next shift after Steven Stamkos out muscled the Devil defenders in front of the net sending a pass to Killorn who lit the lamp giving Tampa the 1-0, despite being checked to the ice as he shot it.  Both teams would take late penalties inside the final two minutes of the 1st period but the Lightning would take a 1-0 lead into the 1st intermission. Tampa would also maintain the shots on goal advantage 12-8, to go along with their one goal lead after one period of play.

The 2nd period would start with both clubs down a man but the Lightning quickly getting a short 43 second power play after the Stamkos penalty expired nine seconds into the period.  The Lightning power play would continue their struggles as their only chance was a Steven Stamkos opportunity near the crease but after Schneider would turn it away killing the man advantage.  Tampa center Vladislav Namestnikov would put on a mini-stick handling skills competition through the Devils zone, drawing a hooking penalty and giving the Lightning their third power play of the game. The Bolts power play would be crisp with solid passing but could not do anything to get one past Schneider allowing New Jersey to kill their third penalty of the night and keep the game at a one goal deficit. Ben Bishop appearing to want to make things interesting left his crease again to make a save, only to become entangled with one of his own defenders forcing him to remain sprawled on the ice but still made a pad stack save despite being completely off his feet. The very next shift Bishop would again find himself out of the net attempting to make a save but this time was not able to control the rebound in front of a wide open Lightning net, and it appeared the Devils would finally even the score until Alex Killorn would prevent the goal at the last second with a text-book back check clearing the puck out of the zone, and allowing Bishop to get back into his net.  Tampa’s second line would reward their goalie’s erratic but effective play with a 2-0 lead, as Tyler Johnson would take a Devils turnover created by winger Nikita Kucherov and pass it to his line mate Ondrej Palat, who would bury it past Schneider’s shoulder to extend the Lightning lead late in the 2nd period. Both goalies would make big saves over the next couple of shift after the Palat goal, as the normally conservative Devils began to quicken their pace due to playing from behind. The fast pace played right into the Tampa Bay Lightning’s hands as Anton Stralman would blast a shot from the blue line, and Steven Stamkos would use the shaft of his stick to redirect the puck past Cory Schneider who had no chance to make the save, giving Tampa a commanding 3-0 lead late in the 2nd period. The Devils would add to their struggles as winger Lee Stempniak would take a frustration high-sticking penalty on the next face-off after the goal, giving the Lightning their fourth power play of the night. The Tampa Bay Lightning would head to the locker room up 3-0 after two periods of play, and 58 seconds remaining on their power play to start the 3rd period.  Tampa would also extend their shots on goal advantage to 31-16.

 

The 3rd period began with the Lightning on the power play carried over from a New Jersey Devil high-sticking penalty from the 2nd period. The Devils may have preferred the Tampa Bay Lightning on the power-play the entire night as they would kill their fourth penalty of the night and  it seemed the only time they could stop Tampa was when they were playing a man down. The Devils were intent on testing this theory as defenseman Adam Larrson would take another New Jersey penalty via a cross-check, setting the Lightning up with their fifth power-play on the night.  The fifth power play would go no better than the previous four, as the Lightning special teams unit would yet again leave empty handed. Fortunately for the Bolts they did not require a man advantage to score goals, as even embattled Tampa defenseman Matt Carle would get in on the scoring action tipping in his second goal on the year off a Ondrej Palat shot, and giving the Lightning a insurmountable 4-0 lead midway through the 3rd period. The Devils would take a sixth penalty late in the 3rd period but the Lightning were fine going 0 for 6 on the power play as they chose to just milk the clock on the power play as both teams appeared to be content with the result already determined. The Lightning blue line ensured Ben Bishop would get his third shout-out of the season and extend the team’s winning streak to five games with a dominant 4-0 victory against the Devils. The final shots on goal totals saw the Lightning hold a 36-21 advantage.

The Lightning would improve to 35-22-4 (74 pts) on the year, and the Devils would fall to 30-26-7 (67 pts), and dropping to the 8th seed in the Eastern conference.

The Lightning will head to Boston on Sunday February 28th, to face a team they are battling for playoff seeding the Boston Bruins. The game can be seen locally on NBCSN sports with a 6:30 pm puck drop.

 

THREE STARS OF THE GAME

  1.  Alex Killorn – What did Killorn do to put him ahead of a goalie with a shut out and a Captain on a 5 goal game streak? He scored the first goal which inevitably was the game winner. The way in which Killorn scored though was all about effort; he was getting blasted but stayed in the pocket to put it the open net, getting an early goal for a team struggling to score early goals was huge. Killorn was not done however because the Devils should have had an equalizer late in the first which would have seemingly changed the momentum of the game, possibly the outcome, if it was not for Killorn’s timely back check to prevent a New Jersey goal on a wide open Bolts net. Killorn’s relentless play on both ends of the ice ensured a Lightning win tonight.
  2.  Ben Bishop– Bishop did everything that was asked of him tonight stopping all 21 shots he faced and getting his third shutout on the year. The Devils offense wasn’t enough of a challenge, so Ben added to his degree of difficulty by misplayinga few pucks allowing the Devils a few more scoring opportunities, but he stopped those too.  It wasn’t always pretty but not allowing your opponents to score is all the team can ever ask from their anchor in net.
  3. Steven Stamkos–  The captain has been on fire since his trade rumors ended, and he continued his goal scoring streak to 5 straight games tonight. His deflection was a back breaker to New Jersey paired with his beautiful assist on Killorn’s goal showing why he’s so invaluable to this franchise when he can focus just on hockey and not off ice contract situations.  Stamkos could have easily had one or two more goals had it not been for a few lucky bounces for the Devils. Teams should be worried the old Stamkos is finally back because that makes the Tampa Bay Lightning very dangerous.

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