Tonight’s Lightning smack down of the Hurricanes was definitive. Maybe it was Tampa playing Carolina in the third of four straight games. Andrei Vasilevskiy notched his first shutout of the season leading Tampa to a 3 -0 win. As the team returned home after six of their last seven games on the road they found themselves in fourth place in the Central Division. Playing one of the teams they were looking up at, safe to say there is nothing like some home cooking.
From the opening puck drop, the Lightning were determined to maintain the puck. Picking up where they left off Monday night, the Lightning wrestled control over the Hurricanes. In the first five minutes of the initial period, at least 75% of the play was in Carolina’s zone. Clearly, the visitors were playing back on their heels. At 6:43 of the first period, Ross Colton opened the scoring. Yes, in his NHL debut with the Lightning, Colton with an assist from Victor Hedman scored the game’s first goal giving the Lightning a 1-0 lead. The 24 year-old Colton playing his first game with the big club, scores on his second shift of the game. Can’t script that any better. Scoring 25 goals in 128 games with the Syracuse Crunch the last two seasons, Colton is now a goal a game NHL player.
After the kid scored, the Hurricanes picked their game up a bit but it wasn’t enough tonight. The game was even with both defenses making it challenging to get off an unobstructed shot. With a little less than four minutes left in the period, Carolina committed the first penalty of the game. It’s no secret that the Lightning Power Play unit has struggled lately at home. They had a goose egg going in their last 11 opportunities. That streak came to an end relatively quick. The second unit rushed up the ice as Pat Maroon lifted a puck in the Hurricane zone that Yanni Gourde flew to chased down. As Gourde wrangled control of the puck, he saw a streaking Blake Coleman coming right down Broadway all alone. Gourde fed him and Coleman put it past Carolina goalie, Alex Nedeljkovic to put the Lightning ahead 2 – 0 as the opening frame was coming to a close.
Grinding Out the Season
Most Lightning fans know the team is playing the regular season without Nikita Kucherov. Over the last couple three weeks, the team has also lost Centers, Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Stephens. As these injuries took a toll, the team had to make adjustments. That’s one of the reasons we’ve seen young players like Colton tonight and Alex Barre-Boulet in the previous game.
It is also why we have seen some Central Division teams playing the upstart roles. Namely, the Florida Panthers and these Carolina Hurricanes. Before tonight’s game, Florida and Carolina were surprisingly number one and two in the division. Clearly, these two teams saw an opportunity with the Lightning playing a little out of sync as they adjusted to the new players.
For the Lightning to win they were going to have to grind one out. About halfway through the second period on an odd man rush, the Lightning appeared to score their third goal. Video review determined that Ondrej Palat interfered with Nedeljkovic and the goal was disallowed. That denied goal didn’t change the flow of the game. Even during a penalty kill, the Lightning worked to gain and maintain possession of the puck the rest of the period. The ice was tilted the Lightning’s way. After 12 shots in the first, they added 11 shots in the second period while limiting Carolina to eight shots in each of the first two periods.
Neither team scored in the middle frame so maybe this wasn’t going to be a Lightning smack down of the Hurricanes.
Lightning Smack Down Statement
For the Hurricanes, you don’t become a potential playoff hopeful without winning some tough games. Tonight, they were made to look more like a pretender than the contenders they want to be. Heading into the final period, only down two goals, this was a test for the road team. For the Lightning, they were two thirds of the way to grinding out this win and the two points it brings.
There should have been no question that Carolina was going to step it up. Turns out the Lightning were ready. Though at 7:18 of the final period, Mikhail Sergachev was whistled for interference and Tampa’s penalty killers would have to grind hard to maintain the two goal lead. The PK units brought it tonight. Killing off Sergachev’s penalty led to more control by the home team but Carolina wasn’t going off quietly.
You have to hand it to the Hurricanes. They didn’t turn tail and run. They gave it a good effort. Unfortunately, they ran into a determined opponent. With three minutes left and still down only two, Carolina pulled their goaltender. They mustered off several good scoring opportunities but Vasilevskiy held firm.
Finally, in the last minute of the game, Alex Killorn broke out of the Lightning zone with Barclay Goodrow. As the lone Hurricane defender went to check Killorn, he flipped the puck in front of Goodrow who put the puck in the empty net to solidify the final 3-0 score. This may not seem like a Lightning smack down of epic proportions but it was. Beating a team above you in the standings decisively with a rematch around the corner is indeed a smack down.
Back to the grindstone for the Lightning and the Hurricanes. They play their fourth straight game. A mini-playoff, if you will. You know, when real hatred begins to build. If Carolina is a contender and not a pretender, these two teams may well see each other in a playoff series. That makes tomorrow game at Amalie at 7:00 pm, a game of some importance. A message game.
1 – Andrei Vasilevskiy G – Saved 25 shots in recording his first shutout of the season
2 – Ross Colton F – Lightning rookie notches his first NHL goal in his first NHL game
3 – Blake Coleman F – Scored a goal, blocked a shot and integral on penalty kill
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