Before Tuesday’s contest at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Pat Maroon received his Stanley Cup ring from the St. Louis Blues. A key contributor to the Blues’ championship run last season, the hulking winger and his current team looked to pick up two points against the defending champs.
Unfortunately for Maroon and the Lightning, the Blues showed why they own the top record in the Western Conference.
St. Louis (13-4-5, 31 points) rode a strong final 40 minutes, out-shot the Lightning 34-18, and picked up timely goals from Oskar Sundqvist, David Perron, and Jaden Schwartz in a 3-1 over the Lightning (9-7-2, 20 points) in the first of two meetings between these teams this season. Jordan Binnington wasn’t tested in St. Louis’s crease often, but came up with a handful of important saves when called upon, while Andrei Vasilevskiy took the loss while finishing with 31 saves. The loss is the second in a row for the Lightning after a three-game winning streak, while the Blues snapped a three-game losing streak (0-1-2) with the win. St. Louis is now 10-2-2 in their last 14 games and is 9-3-0 in their last 12 overall against Tampa Bay.
The fourth line leads the way, but Anthony Cirelli provides the first strike
For much of the first half of the opening period, zone exits and entries proved to be a bit of an adventure for the Lightning. St. Louis gave the Lightning some early fits when it came to getting out of their own zone. On top of that, the Blues also prevented the Lightning from gaining clean entry into their end of the ice. While Vasilevskiy didn’t face any real high-danger chances, he came up with a handful of solid saves when needed.
As the period went on, Tampa Bay adjusted and began getting pucks in deep and establishing a solid forecheck. Most notably, the line of Yanni Gourde, Cedric Paquette, and Maroon continued their stellar play. Maroon nearly scored off a rebound of a Ryan McDonagh shot, but Binnington came up with a left pad save.
As the Lightning’s play in the opening period improved, their fortunes did as well. It paid off with 3:24 remaining on the clock. Victor Hedman kept the puck alive in the corner, winning a puck battle and getting support from Alex Killorn. Killorn centered it to Cirelli in front of the net. Blues defenseman Vince Dunn lost track of Cirelli, who put it home and gave the Bolts a 1-0 lead they would take into the intermission.
St. Louis completely flips the script in the second period
That solid effort from the Lightning in the opening period gave way to a second period in which the Blues out-shot them 18-4. St. Louis began the period slowly, but picked up steam as time went on. Tampa Bay appeared content to sit on a 1-0 lead while the Blues poured on the pressure. Vasilevskiy stayed busy and came up with several high-quality saves to keep the Bolts’ one-goal lead intact. Tampa Bay’s best chances came while shorthanded, where Binnington robbed Cirelli on a shorthanded breakaway and then stonewalled Killorn on the rebound. Those chances, combined with Killorn’s one-timer from the slot, proved to be the Bolts’ best chances in a period dominated by St. Louis.
Eventually, the Blues broke through with 2:36 left on the clock. Ryan O’Reilly worked the puck to Colton Parayko along the left wing, where he backhanded a shot into a crowd in front. Perron fought through the mess and put the rebound home, tying the game 1-1.
Injuries, bruises, and cuts cause problems for Lightning
The shot total wasn’t the only thing the Lightning were on the wrong side of in the middle period. Paquette took a shot off his leg that left him in pain, but he returned to the game. Ondrej Palat took a puck to the face that caused a cut, but returned to the game in the third period after getting stitched up. Unfortunately for Nikita Kucherov, he wasn’t as fortunate:
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) November 20, 2019
While turning around to admire a pass, Kucherov got blasted by Brayden Schenn. There was no head contact and the hit didn’t occur from behind. Nevertheless, Erik Cernak stood up for his teammate, igniting a scrum that led to Schenn taking a roughing minor and Cernak getting four minutes for roughing. However, the Lightning penalty kill came up big. Kucherov would not return for the remainder of the game.
St. Louis puts a cap on this one in the third period
The Lightning’s bottom two lines, featuring Cirelli between Killorn and Mathieu Joseph, along with the aforementioned Gourde-Paquette-Maroon trio, held their own for much of the night. However, their top six forwards were mostly nowhere to be found. Nowhere was this more evident than in the quality of the scoring chances being generated, as the bottom two lines did much of the heavy lifting. Over the final 20 minutes, Killorn and Maroon generated two of Tampa Bay’s best chances in that time.
However, the Blues kept pushing, resulting in them taking the lead for good at the 6:16 mark of the third period:
— NHL (@NHL) November 20, 2019
Robert Thomas set up Sundqvist with a gorgeous pass, and Vasilevskiy appeared to lose track of it. Sundqvist ripped a beautiful shot top shelf to the far corner to give the Blues a 2-1 lead. Despite only trailing by a goal, the Lightning generated few quality chances over the remainder of the contest, with Tyler Johnson’s shot off a rush down the right wing being among them. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, Binnington made the save, and despite applying more pressure in the final few minutes, the Bolts couldn’t break through. The Blues eventually iced it when Schwartz tallied an empty net goal with 4.4 seconds remaining.
The Lightning will return to action on Thursday night when they head to Chicago for a contest against the Blackhawks at the United Center. Puck drops at 8:30 pm.
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Oskar Sundqvist – Scored the game-winner and finished with six shots on goal.
2nd Star: David Perron – Tied the game 1-1 late in the second period, finished a plus-2 with four shots on goal.
3rd Star: Colton Parayko – Assisted on Perron’s goal and ended the night with six shots on goal, a plus-2 rating, and 22:15 of ice time.
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