Through the first two months of the 2019-20 season, consistency has not been the name of the game for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Following a stretch of six wins in eight games, the Bolts followed that up with four losses in five games. Having started a stretch of 10 out of 12 games at home with Thursday’s 5-4 loss to Minnesota, Tampa Bay sought a pair of valuable points when the San Jose Sharks visited Amalie Arena on Saturday night.
For about 39 minutes, Tampa Bay and San Jose went back and forth in a tightly-played contest featuring some quality scoring chances on both sides. Over the final 21 minutes, the Lightning took firm control and ran away with a much-needed victory.
Steven Stamkos ended a six-game goal drought, Tyler Johnson registered his first multi-goal game of the season, Carter Verhaeghe scored his first career NHL goal and added two assists, Victor Hedman extended his point streak to five games, and Alex Killorn notched a goal and three assists as the Lightning (14-10-3, 31 points) trounced the Sharks (15-14-2, 32 points) by a score of 7-1.
On top of that, the Lightning’s play in their own zone was an improvement over recent games this season despite the shots being even at 38-38. The breakdowns that plagued them against Minnesota weren’t there tonight. Most importantly Andrei Vasilevskiy looked like his Vezina Trophy-winning self, stopping 37 shots and coming up with some key saves, particularly in penalty killing situations. He came within 5:16 of a shutout before Marc-Edouard Vlasic broke up the bid.
Vasilevskiy sharp early as Lightning penalty kill stayed busy
Only 15 seconds into the contest, Ondrej Palat took a tripping penalty, putting the Sharks on a power play. Despite the early disadvantage, the Lightning easily killed it off, even creating a couple of shorthanded opportunities for themselves.
Soon after, Johnson tallied his second goal in four games at the 3:10 mark. The Lightning did an excellent job gaining the zone, with Stamkos and Verhaeghe leading the way on the forecheck. Verhaeghe found Johnson in the slot with a brilliant pass. Johnson’s shot bounced off the left pad of Sharks goalie Martin Jones and trickled in for his sixth of the season. After going exactly a month between goals, seeing Johnson get on the scoreboard with a little more regularity is an encouraging sign.
Johnny from the slot. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/9HUuFY5E2z
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) December 8, 2019
At 5:51, Mathieu Joseph took a double-minor for high-sticking, putting San Jose on an extended power play. The Sharks proved to be more dangerous with a four-minute man-advantage. They took seven of their 15 shots in the opening period on this power play. However, Vasilevskiy proved to be up to the task, turning aside a few high-quality Sharks chances. The Lightning killed off the double-minor, prompting a loud ovation from the Amalie Arena crowd.
Tampa Bay began tilting things back in their favor in the last few minutes, generating some solid looks before the intermission, where they were out-shot 15-10 after a period.
Some big saves at both ends of the ice
In the early stages of the second period, Brayden Point nearly increased the Bolts’ lead, but Jones came up with a solid save, followed by a missed one-timer from Nikita Kucherov moments later. Cedric Paquette also found himself with a bouncing puck in front, but Jones turned his backhander aside.
Soon after, Vasilevskiy showcased the athleticism that makes him one of the elite net-minders in the league. Joe Thornton controlled the puck down the left wing and set up Kevin Labanc with a beautiful pass. Vasilevskiy whipped out his left leg and turned it aside to keep San Jose off the scoreboard.
Johnson nearly fired home his second of the night off a nifty centering feed from Hedman, yet Jones came up with another stop. At the other end of the ice, Erik Karlsson rang one off the iron and it stayed out.
A pair of goals give the Bolts distance over San Jose
With under 10 minutes left, Thornton and Labanc both had chances off a scramble in front of Vasilevskiy, yet the Sharks couldn’t capitalize. The Lightning soon began a rush, with Anthony Cirelli eventually finding Jan Rutta at the point. Rutta unleashed a hard shot that hit Jones, and when Radim Simek tried to clear the puck, it popped up into the air. Cirelli attempted to bat it out of the mid-air, but was unsuccessful. However, Killorn caught Jones out of position, depositing the rebound into the net for his eighth goal at 12:29.
With 3:44 remaining in the period, Labanc’s stick clipped Cirelli in the face, drawing a four-minute power play for Tampa Bay. The Bolts had several issues with zone entries on the man-advantage and only created three shots on goal. Despite this, the Lightning finally created some extended offensive zone time towards the end of the power play. With 26.1 seconds left on the clock, Stamkos collected a pass, waited, and then zipped a laser beam of a wrist shot the top corner on the short side. Jones had no chance and Tampa Bay owned a 3-0 lead over San Jose thanks to Stamkos’s eighth of the year and first since November 16 against Winnipeg.
The Lightning keep pouring it on
It only took 52 seconds for the Lightning to add to their lead, thanks to Cirelli and Hedman. Cirelli drove to the net and backhanded a puck through the crease. Hedman, who was camped out to Jones’s right, put home the pass to make it 4-0 on his seventh of the season. Jones promptly got pulled in favor of Aaron Dell after allowing four goals on 21 shots.
The Lightning needed just 1:59 after Hedman’s goal to give Dell a rude welcome to the contest. Verhaeghe did the dirty work, harassing Dell while he attempted to handle the puck and gaining possession. Verhaeghe swiftly worked it to Stamkos who almost immediately fed Johnson in front for his second of the night to make it 5-0 for the Bolts.
Vlasic spoiled Vasilevskiy’s shutout bid, but the Lightning were unfazed, as Stamkos added another power play goal to increase the lead to 6-1. As the clock wound down, it appeared this would be the final score. But Verhaeghe had other ideas, as he came flying down the wing and ripped one past Dell with 24.6 seconds left on the clock to put the exclamation point on this one with the first goal of his NHL career.
Carter Verhaeghe cashes in to score his 1st NHL goal! @TBLightning WIN 7-1!!
— FOX Sports Florida & Sun (@FOXSportsFL) December 8, 2019
The Lightning return to action Monday night when they host the New York Islanders at Amalie Arena at 7 pm.
For postgame reaction from the dressing room, be sure to check out our YouTube channel.
-Johnson’s first goal gave him 145 in a Lightning uniform, tying him with Freddy Modin for sixth-most in franchise history.
-Vasilevskiy’s start was his 228th appearance in the Lightning’s crease, the most by a goaltender in Lightning history.
-Nikita Kucherov saw his seven-game point streak come to an end.
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Alex Killorn – Finished with a goal and three assists
2nd Star: Steven Stamkos – Notched a pair of power play goals while adding one assist.
3rd Star: Carter Verhaeghe – Scored the first goal of his NHL career and tacked on a pair of helpers.
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