Playing in the second game of a back-to-back on the road, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew they’d need a no-quit attitude to grind out a victory. That mentality was twofold, considering they were starting third-stringer Eddie Pasquale, who was making his first career NHL start. The Bolts have had some wild and eventful affairs in the playoffs against Detroit in recent years. They would need all that magic and more to secure what was arguably their wildest, yet most determined win of the season.
Though Tampa Bay and the Red Wings are Atlantic Division rivals, tonight was their first meeting of the season. In the opening ten minutes of play, it was clear neither team was willing to give up much through the middle of the ice. Both struggled to carry the puck through the neutral zone and create chances, which led to a rather mundane few moments.
The floodgates open
From a glance, this period may look like it was dominated by the Wings, outshooting the Lightning 12-5. However, Victor Hedman had a quality look right down main street in the opening moments, and just minutes before the game’s first goal, Alex Killorn had an open side of the cage but rattled it off the crossbar. To this point, the Bolts had done an admirable job preventing any Grade-A chances in front of Pasquale. That all changed in a series of defensive errors in the Tampa Bay zone. Dan Girardi and Steven Stamkos crossed paths chasing down a loose puck in the corner, and Gustav Nyquist was all alone in the slot to rip one over the glove of Pasquale. Just 21 seconds later, Tyler Johnson turned the puck over and Andreas Athanasiou fed Frans Nielsen, who made no mistake in making it 2-0. Mikhail Sergachev also had an open portion of the net in the final minute, but one-armed a rebound wide. Detroit led 2-0 after an eventful second half to the opening period.
Whatever John Cooper said to the Lightning after period one, it certainly seemed to rally the troops. Tampa Bay looked determined from the outset of period two, and began it with ten of their most impressive minutes in this hockey game. Steven Stamkos’s line created pressure and the captain fired one in but was turned away by Jimmy Howard.
Just over five minutes into the period, Mathieu Joseph showcased incredible speed and an other-worldly individual effort, chasing down a rolling puck that originally seemed to be miles in front of him. At the last possible moment, as Howard decided to pursue the puck and poke check it, Joseph chopped it up and over top of Howard with one hand on the stick to cut the lead in half.
Joseph wasn’t done yet. Just less than six and a half minutes later, Yanni Gourde appeared to call for a puck behind Howard, who mistakenly dropped it right off Gourde’s skate. One way or another, it landed right on the tape of Joseph, who was in the right place at the right time to tie the game 2-2.
There’s hardly another way to describe what may have been the Lightning’s most eventful period of the season. After Joseph took the opening ten-plus minutes by storm, the latter half of the period was a series of quick responses. Nielsen, who had just one goal on the season entering the game, potted his second of the game less than two minutes later to regain the lead for Detroit.
That didn’t sit well with Stamkos, who took full advantage of the long second period line change. Ryan Callahan made a terrific rink-wide feed to find Stamkos, who had snuck in behind the Red Wing defense. Wrong guy to let loose, as Stamkos snapped home his third goal in as many games.
Nielsen continued to have himself a night. The game was tied for a second shy of a minute before a puck came out from behind the net, ricocheted off the pad of Pasquale, and right onto the stick of the 34-year-old Nielsen, who completed the first hat trick in Little Caesars Arena.
Detroit took an interference penalty with 18 seconds to play in the second, but Tampa Bay was unable to connect on the other side of the intermission.
It would have been easy for the Lightning to give up when Nyquist got his second goal of the night early in the third. The Bolts had come back from two goals down and tied the game up once more, when Pasquale gave up his fifth goal on 20 shots to put Detroit up by two. Though it’s hardly fair to blame Pasquale for either of the first two tallies, the third was stoppable, and this one he definitely would’ve liked to have back. The puck dribbled through his five-hole and in, but there was no quit in Tampa Bay, or Pasquale, for that matter.
Following some good zonentime from the Anthony Cirelli line, J.T. Miller finally got the Lightning back within one. Sergachev moved laterally across the blue line and fed Miller a one-timer at the right circle, which he emphatically blasted home for his first goal in 13 games.
In the closing minutes of the third period, Tampa Bay did more than enough to make up for missing on their first power play chance. Callahan was called for interference, putting the Lightning shorthanded with 5:58 left.
Not only did the Bolts kill off the penalty, but some dogged forechecking from Joseph led to a Cedric Paquette snipe, tying the game 5-5 with just over five minutes remaining.
With 1:10 left, Johnson was called for tripping, but yet again, Tampa Bay’s penalty kill came up clutch, killing off the remainder of regulation to earn a point, in addition to 50 seconds of a 4-on-3 situation as well.
Game of inches
In the final minute of 3-on-3, Ryan McDonagh made an incredible individual effort to slice down the right wing and feed Gourde, who had a yawning net, but couldn’t get a stick on the puck as it lay on the goal line. He and McDonagh both had multiple whacks at it, but the Red Wings narrowly escaped to a shootout, taking only a hooking penalty, which they killed all 28 seconds of.
Coming out on top
Pasquale shut down his nemesis Nielsen in the shootout, and after Victor Hedman connected on the Lightning’s first shot attempt, it all came down to Nikita Kucherov. Though his ten-game point streak was snapped, so was his beauty of a shot, beating Howard to secure a 6-5 shootout win for the Lightning.
Our three stars of the game
1st Star: Mathieu Joseph – Joseph was a force tonight. He made an incredible individual effort on one of his two goals, and picked up an assist on Cedric Paquette’s game-tying shorthanded tally.
2nd Star: Frans Nielsen – On three occasions, Nielsen introduced Pasquale to an NHL-caliber release, burying a hat trick to spearhead the Wings’ offense.
3rd Star: Ryan Callahan – Callahan was a beast of a forechecker for the Bolts tonight, and delivered a beautiful end-to-end pass to Steven Stamkos to pick up his second assist of the night and first multi-point game of the year.
The Lightning will return home Thursday to take on the Boston Bruins at 7:30 PM.
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