Plenty of adjectives could be used to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning’s play since Thanksgiving. Drought. Slump. Dry spell. Rough patch. Call it whatever you want to call it, but the Lightning have a had a tough go of things lately. Beginning a three-game road trip against the red-hot Calgary Flames, the Lightning were desperate to get their season back on track. Leave it to a good old-fashioned Western Canada swing to help some Lightning players end lengthy goal droughts.
Brian Boyle and Alex Killorn each scored twice, defensemen Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr chipped in with rare goals, and Victor Hedman and Valtteri Filppula each contributed three assists in a 6-3 win at the Scotiabank Saddledome, snapping Calgary’s six-game winning streak. Hedman’s second assist was his 250th NHL point in his 500th NHL game. On a team that had been starving for offense, they got it from players who had gone through droughts when it came to putting the puck in the net. Boyle’s goals ended a run of 13 games without a goal. Killorn ended an eight-game goalless run. The droughts for Sustr and Coburn were even longer, as Sustr notched his first goal since Game 4 of last season’s Eastern Conference Final and his first regular season tally since April 5th, 2016 in Madison Square Garden. Coburn’s goal was his first in 102 games dating back to October 23rd, 2015 in Winnipeg. This was also the Lightning’s first win in regulation since the day before Thanksgiving, when they beat Philadelphia 4-2 at Amalie Arena, and it was just their second win in the span of nine games.
Although the Lightning ended the night on a high note, things didn’t look too good for them early on, as they gave up the opening goal of the game for the 19th time this season just 17 seconds after a Joel Vermin holding penalty put the Flames on a power play. Sean Monahan fed Troy Brouwer in front of the net, and Brouwer knocked the puck home, giving Calgary a 1-0 lead off assists from Monahan and T.J. Brodie at the 3:06 mark. A couple of minutes later, Vlad Namestnikov dropped the gloves with Sam Bennett in an effort to give the Bolts a spark. It didn’t seem to work at first, as it took them almost seven minutes to get their first shot on goal. Jonathan Drouin, who had an excellent game despite not getting on the scoresheet, had a great chance after stealing the puck from Jyrki Jokipakka. Drouin skated in alone from the right circle and got an open look at the Flames’ net, only to get robbed by the glove of Calgary goalie Chad Johnson. Soon after, Tyler Johnson got called for slashing, giving the Flames their second power play, but that was cut short when Dougie Hamilton clipped Filppula with a high stick, earning a double minor and giving the Bolts an extended power play.
The Lightning would use that man advantage to shift momentum, as Boyle notched his fifth goal of the season after deflecting a point shot from Hedman into the net with 9:56 left in the period. Hedman and Tyler Johnson earned the assists and Tampa Bay was off and running with a much-needed power play goal. With 6:18 remaining on the clock, Boyle got his second goal of the night when Hedman saw the Flames making an ill-timed line change and sprung Filppula with a pass. He worked a give and go back to Boyle, who got behind the Flames’ defenders and deked to his backhand before putting a shot past Chad Johnson to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead. Tampa Bay continued to do a great job of forcing turnovers and getting behind Calgary’s defense, highlighted by Namestnikov hitting the post on a 2-on-1 following a nice saucer pass from Brayden Point, who was playing his first game in front of family and friends in Calgary. The Bolts went into the intermission with a 9-7 edge in shots.
Early in the second, the Lightning survived a major scare when goaltender Ben Bishop was caught out of position on a wraparound by Johnny Gaudreau, only to see Gaudreau hit the post. Moments later, Micheal Ferland got a breakaway after a mistake by Anton Stralman, only to see Stralman recover and break up the chance to prevent Ferland from getting a shot off. At the 4:40 mark, Coburn would give the Lightning a 3-1 lead when his shot from the point got through thanks to a screen from Namestnikov. Killorn and Namestnikov got the assist on the goal. The Lightning continued to control play despite the early surge from the Flames, but Calgary would start to mount some pressure later in the period, as Monahan had an excellent look high in the slot off a rush, but was stymied by Bishop, who finished with 19 saves on 22 shots. With 1:13 left in the second, Sustr’s point shot eluded Chad Johnson thanks to a well-timed screen by Boyle, putting the Lightning up 4-1 off assists from Filppula and Hedman. Tampa Bay held a 21-15 edge in shots as the Flames pulled Johnson for Brian Elliott to start the third period.
Despite having some carryover power play time, the goalie change didn’t help Calgary, as Killorn notched an unassisted shorthanded goal 37 seconds into the third period after he followed his rebound after his initial shot was stopped by Elliott. With a 5-1 lead, the Lightning appeared to be in control once again. However, Cedric Paquette got whistled for slashing 2:59 into the period, and the Flames’ T.J. Brodie took advantage, blasting a shot from the point past Bishop with the help of a screen from Brouwer, who picked up the secondary assist while Gaudreau got the primary helper. Just 21 seconds later, Ferland converted a one-timer on a 2-on-1 to cut the Lightning’s lead to 5-3. Nick Stajan and Lance Bouma earned the helpers and the Flames had some jump in their step. A few minutes later, Bennett nearly gave Calgary another goal, but Bishop came up with a huge stop on a partial breakaway to preserve the two-goal advantage. After this surge by the Flames, the Lightning seemed to regain their composure, getting back to controlling play until Killorn iced it with an empty net goal with just under 45 seconds remaining in the contest. Tampa Bay finished the game with a 35-22 edge in shots on goal. Traffic in front, timely saves from Bishop, offense from the blue line, and a shoot-first mentality helped lead the Lightning to a win in this game.
Tampa Bay resumes their road trip on Friday night in Vancouver when they take on the Canucks at 10 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Brian Boyle – His two first period goals settled the Lightning down after a rocky start. Created chances all night and was a force by providing a net-front presence the Lightning desperately needed.
2nd Star: Victor Hedman – Tallied three assists, giving him 251 points for his career. Was a plus-2 and blocked 5 shots in over 28 minutes of ice time in his 500th NHL game.
3rd Star: Ben Bishop – While he only had to make 19 saves, it was the timely nature of his saves that kept the pressure off the Lightning and helped them preserve their lead when the Flames were pressing late in the second period and early in the third. Without him, Calgary might have tied the game up in the third period.
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