“I don’t think we can be very happy with that effort in that game. Most likely should’ve lost the game. Somehow we found a way, and we’ll take that. There’s gotta be more urgency in our efforts and our game right now,” said Anton Stralman.
“Can’t play like that and expect to win in this league. It’s about walking the walk. We’ve talked about it enough, about playing better defensive hockey. We have two separate three-goal leads, one in the third period on home ice. We know in here that’s unacceptable. It’s gotta change or we’re gonna be out of the playoffs before we know it,” said Steven Stamkos.
“We pulled out the two points and we’ll take it, but there’s a lot of areas to clean up, giving up a couple of leads, especially the one in the third period. We showed some character in coming back, but at the end of the day, we need to be better defensively,” said Ryan Callahan.
In one of the strangest, most bizarre games played at Amalie Arena in a long time, the Tampa Bay Lightning roared out to two separate three-goal leads, including one in the third period, before having to make a comeback to win 6-5 in a shootout over the Winnipeg Jets. While the game was lacking in defense, it certainly wasn’t lacking in entertainment, as there were big hits, fights, emotions boiling over, and an ejection, as Jets head coach Paul Maurice was given a game misconduct during the second intermission following a heated disagreement with the officials over Stralman’s open-ice body check on Bryan Little in the second period. Stamkos picked up a goal in regulation and the winner in the fifth round of the shootout, while Alex Killorn had a goal and an assist, and Callahan had two assists. Victor Hedman, Jonathan Marchessault, and Nikita Kucherov also scored, while Andrei Vasilevskiy got the win, making 36 saves on 41 shots. Andrew Ladd scored a pair of goals for the Jets, while Mark Scheifele, Tyler Myers, and Mathieu Perrault also put pucks in the back of the net. Ondrej Pavelec made 21 saves on 26 shots.
Things didn’t look promising in the opening 15 minutes of the first period for the Lightning, as the Jets lived up to their name and flew everywhere across the ice, breaking up Lightning opportunities in their own end and forcing turnovers in Tampa Bay’s zone. A turnover at the Lightning blue line early in the period resulted in Nikolaj Ehlers skating in alone on Vasilevskiy, who was forced to sprawl out and make a tremendous save on the Jets rookie to keep it scoreless. About eight-and-a-half minutes in, Kucherov found Hedman with a pass in the right circle, and he immediately dished it to a wide-open Ondrej Palat, who was unable to control the puck and lift a backhander past Ondrej Pavelec. Winnipeg went on a power play at the 9:09 mark and turned the Lightning zone into a shooting gallery, including a chance by Ehlers that went off the post. Vasilevskiy was forced to make a few quality saves, and the Lightning got some quality penalty killing work from Stamkos and JT Brown to also help kill off the power play. At one point the Jets were up 11-4 in shots and were dominating puck possession.
With 4:22 remaining, the first major momentum shift of the game occurred. Tampa Bay got the puck into the Winnipeg zone and Brown dished it back to the point to Hedman. Hedman had plenty of space, and skated into the slot, where he waited and then fired wicked wrister past Pavelec for his first goal at Amalie Arena this season, giving the Bolts a 1-0 lead. The Lightning continued to swarm and made it 2-0 when Alex Killorn took the puck away from Ondrej Pavelec behind the Jets’ net and found Jonathan Marchessault in front, who wristed it into the net for his seventh goal of the season. Stamkos piled on with his 23rd goal of the season, as a point shot from Andrej Sustr was tipped by Ryan Callahan in front of the net, leading to a rebound that nobody could find. Stamkos promptly swooped in, grabbed the rebound, and scored with 20.8 seconds left in the period. The Lightning owned a 3-0 lead at the first intermission despite being outshot 13-7.
The second period was very physical and chippy, as the Lightning weren’t able to build on their three-goal edge. Tyler Myers finally got a shot past a screened Vasilevskiy when his shot from the point found its way through a maze of players in front and into the back of the net, narrowing the Bolts’ lead to 3-1 with 6:15 remaining in the period. Both teams had early power plays and were unable to take advantage. There were also a few missed calls, as Cedric Paquette got caught by a high stick to the face that wasn’t called, while Winnipeg also got away with having too many men on the ice. Marchessault had a quality chance on a partial breakaway, but had the puck taken away. With 2:56 left, the game got really physical as Anton Stralman leveled Winnipeg’s Bryan Little with a huge check at the Lightning’s blue line. Little had the puck but was off balance and looking down at the puck when Stralman blasted him, drawing the ire of the Jets’ Blake Wheeler. Wheeler and Stralman dropped the gloves, but didn’t get many punches in before the refs broke it up. Little was down for a couple of minutes and skated to the bench, where Jets head coach Paul Maurice gave the officials a piece of his mind. It was such a big piece that he was whistled for a bench minor and then ejected during the second intermission. Wheeler was given a four-minute double minor for roughing, while Stralman got a two-minute minor for roughing, giving the Lightning a two-minute 5-on-3 power play. What did they do with it? Absolutely nothing, as they had a few decent looks, yet kept missing the net. The intermission saw the Jets out-shooting the Bolts 22-16 despite trailing 3-1.
The third period is when things really took a turn for the bizarre, and it looked like Winnipeg was in full headhunting mode, as Jets captain Andrew Ladd threw a hit on Stralman, prompting the two to continue chirping at each other afterwards. Killorn gave the Bolts their second three-goal advantage of the night when he took a pass from Callahan in the left circle and skated to the net, deking to his backhand before beating Pavelec for his 10th goal of the season just two minutes into the period. With a 4-1 lead, the prevailing sentiment in the building was that the game was going to get ugly and that Jets players would try to at least intimidate the Lightning if they weren’t going to win it. At the 4:07 mark, Brown took a high sticking penalty, and Winnipeg mounted their comeback, as Scheifele took a pass from Jacob Trouba in the left circle and beat Vasilevskiy to the short side for a power play goal at the 6:01 mark, cutting Tampa Bay’s lead to 4-2 on his 13th goal of the season. Just 31 seconds later, Anthony Peluso was whistled for boarding Brown, and the officials stepped in before a scrum could ensue. Tampa Bay got a power play out of it, and then promptly gave up a shorthanded goal at the 7:33 mark when Joel Armia outworked two Lightning players in the corner, circled behind the Tampa Bay night, and centered a pass to Ladd, who buried it for his 14th of the season.
With the Lightning’s lead now just a one-goal margin at 4-3, the collective nervousness of Lightning fans in the building had taken on a life of its own. It became full-blown panic when the Jets tied it up at the 12:44 mark, as Ladd got his 15th of the season and second of the night when he skated toward the net, had his angle cut off, and slipped the puck into the Lightning’s crease. The puck then went off Palat’s skate and into the net, knotting the game up at 4-4 and the Jets continued to ride a huge wave of momentum. Soon after, a huge scrum broke out near Vasilevskiy, as Ladd and Brown dropped the gloves, while Paquette and Scheifele ended up with roughing penalties. Winnipeg got a power play out of it and took advantage of a scramble in front of the Tampa Bay net, as Perrault was there to jam home a rebound, giving the Jets a 5-4 lead, their first of the night, with 5:20 left. Things looked bleak for the Lightning until Kucherov collected a puck in the neutral zone, skated into the Jets’ zone with a full head of steam, moved into the slot, and sniped a wrist shot that beat Pavelec to the blocker side just 24 seconds after the Lightning had fallen behind. It was Kucherov’s 24th of the year, it was an unassisted goal, and Amalie Arena had descended into absolute bedlam. The Bolts had a great chance to end it in regulation when Winnipeg was whistled for shooting the puck over the glass in their own end, but they were unable to take advantage of the power play in either regulation or overtime.
The 3-on-3 OT saw both teams with some glorious opportunities, but neither team was able to put one in the net, thus leading to the shootout. In a game this weird, it was only fitting that it went to the skills competition. Callahan and Ladd picked up goals in the first three rounds of the shootout, before Stamkos rifled a shot past Pavelec for the winner in the fifth round, sending the fans home relieved and giving Tampa Bay two crucial points. They now have 66 points on the season, one ahead of New Jersey for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, tied with Pittsburgh for the first wild card spot, one behind Detroit for third-place in the Atlantic Division, and two behind Boston for second-place. They’ll return to action on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins at 12:30 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Nikita Kucherov – Scored the tying goal in the third period, sparing the Lightning from the embarrassment of blowing a three-goal lead in the final period and losing in regulation
2nd Star: Andrew Ladd – Tallied a pair of goals for the Jets and was a thorn in the Lightning’s side throughout the evening
3rd Star: Ryan Callahan – Had two assists and a goal in the shootout, along with a few other quality chances
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