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McElhinney shines as injured Bolts squeak by Chicago

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning were in very unfamiliar territory Thursday. Curtis McElhinney was between the pipes. They were playing without Nikita Kucherov. Needless to say, #86 is a big loss. The Lightning would need everyone to play a little harder to pick up two points in the Windy City against the Chicago Blackhawks. McElhinney, and his teammates. Boy, did they ever. 

It was evident early on the effect Kucherov’s absence would have. McElhinney would be called upon often as the forward group grew tired. Brayden Point played extra shifts. He wasn’t the only one. Another thing was very clear: this was going to be a good night for the Bolts.

McElhinney not tested early

The Lightning jumped out to a 5-0 advantage on the shot clock and controlled the pace early on. Much of that was due to excellent puck retrieval. Tampa Bay was physical along the boards and hard on Hawk sticks, forcing turnovers.

Turnovers

Speaking of turnovers, there were plenty of them in the early goings. Both teams noted pregame coughing up the puck was something they were looking to avoid. That didn’t go to well early. If the Bolts had controlled the puck a tad better, they may have made this a 1-0 game much earlier than they eventually did.

Reaping the rewards

Despite the turnovers, the Lightning played a very solid period. They outshot Chicago 14-12 in the frame, and it was the aforementioned puck retrieval that led to a Tampa Bay goal.

Anthony Cirelli displayed dogged effort to grab the puck in the offensive zone and it ended up on the stick of Mikhail Sergachev at the blue-line. That’s when Sergachev absolutely unloaded a bomb to beat Corey Crawford and give the Bolts a 1-0 lead.

Troubling penalties

Though Tampa Bay only took two penalties in the period, neither were minors head coach Jon Cooper would be happy with. The first was two hundred feet from the Bolts’ net, where Alex Killorn was whistled for cross-checking.

Then, in the dwindling seconds, Erik Cernak lost his stick and took an interference minor. Cernak most likely could’ve just muscled his man to the corner without a stick and time would most likely have ticked away without harm. Instead, the Lightning headed to the box for the second time.

Game management

The second period was rather uneventful, clearly something the Bolts, holding a 1-0 lead, were more than content with.

One of the best looks for Tampa Bay came off the stick of a player skating in his first NHL game of the season: Cory Conacher. He walked into a one-timer, which Crawford turned aside with the pad. The rebound was put over the net by Cedric Paquette.

On the whole though, the second was a rather mundane frame, and the Lightning entered the third period still holding a 1-0 lead.

Tenacious ten, plus McElhinney

Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the injury bug wasn’t done biting. Steven Stamkos, who missed morning skate Tuesday due to “body maintenance,” didn’t play a shift in the second period. During a TV timeout, he was on the ice skating, testing out whatever ails him, but was unable to go.

Despite the captain’s absence, the Bolts’ forward group of ten were excellent. They were hard on the puck, created turnovers, and managed the biscuit very well. The most important thing? To finish strong. That would mean staying out of the box in the third period, in order to conserve energy while short-staffed.

McElhinney was also very strong in the second, holding the Hawks off the board.

Coming through

The Lightning didn’t take a single penalty in the third period, and despite being outshot 14-11, carried play for much of the twenty minutes, were very smart with the puck, and limited dangerous chances against.

Quick response

Brent Seabrook tied the game, sneaking one past Curtis McElhinney from nearly behind the net. The game wouldn’t be knotted for long, however.

Victor Hedman threw a puck on net and Cirelli redirected it past Crawford to get the lead right back just 1:17 later.

McElhinney strong

Throughout much of this game, the Bolts were strong defensively. However, any lapse they would have would be shored up by the stellar play of McElhinney. He was fabulous on the penalty kill, and an all around rockstar in this game.

Taking over

Ondrej Palat had one heck of a third period. First, he made a beautiful move to set up Brayden Point in the slot and put the Bolts up 3-1.

Later, he drew a penalty with more dogged work. That killed two more minutes of valuable clock, so when the Hawks pulled within one, they had less than three minutes to tie the game, and pulled their goalie nearly immediately. Paquette buried, and the Lightning left United Center with a 4-2 win.

 

Our three stars of the game

  1. Ondrej Palat: One assist. Palat’s efforts in the third period can’t be understated. His move on the Point goal and work to draw a penalty moments later were crucial.
  2. Curtis McElhinney: 32 saves. For once, Tampa Bay didn’t completely hang McElhinney out to dry. However, he still racked up 32 saves, and was excellent when called upon.
  3. Mikhail Sergachev: One goal. Sergachev unloaded a bomb to open the scoring, and could’ve had two or three points in this hockey game. He was smart in activating at the right times, and was all over the ice.

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