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Road Woes Continue For Lightning Against Blue Jackets

During their first road trip of the season, the Lightning were 0-2-1 in those three games. It wasn’t as if they were playing perennial playoff teams in Detroit, Ottawa and Buffalo. Tonight, the Lightning are in Columbus facing the Blue Jackets. Sure, the Jackets went through a kerfuffle with newly hired coach Mike Babcock. He resigned about three weeks before the season began. Babcock was replaced by Pascal Vincent. Columbus is near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The test for Tampa is to shake their previous road performances. 

Matt Tomkins gets the start in net for the Lightning. This is to give starter Jonas Johansson a rest but Jon Cooper also knows Tomkins played at The Ohio State University. Clearly, for Tomkins this is a meaningful game. Between the pipes for Columbus is Elvis Merzlikins. Can the Lightning change their early season road woes? Or will the Blue Jackets take advantage of the home crowd and the issues plaguing Tampa away from Amalie Arena?

Opening Frame

Tonight’s game began like a thousand other games. Both teams feeling each other out. Then Tomkins was tested and tested hard. Johnny Gaudreau waltzed in all alone with a breakaway. Johnny Hockey is one of the game’s best finishers. The crowd slowly began to prepare for what they thought would be the game’s opening goal. Except one thing. Tomkins stoned Gaudreau who could do nothing but look towards the sky as the Lightning goalie controlled the puck preventing any rebound chance. 

As the game progressed, both teams seemed to be plodding along. Both teams had some zone time but neither really had much of a scoring chance through the first five minutes of the initial period. Just after the six minute mark, Columbus struck first. 

Victor Hedman attempted a pass to Brandon Hagel to get out of their defensive zone. Unfortunately, the puck eluded Hagel’s stick and Columbus kept coming. A couple of passes later, Kirill Marchenko took advantage of a cross ice pass and sniped a shot over Tomkins left shoulder. It went top shelf and the Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead.  

The remainder of the period went back to the form of the first few minutes. Both teams got a couple of decent looks but neither team really maintained any sustained pressure on the other. At the end of the period, the Lightning went on their first power play. Despite the extra man for the last minute and a half, the period ended with Columbus on top by a goal.

Tale of One Goal

The Lightning had about 40 seconds left in their power play as the second period began. Unfortunately, they couldn’t even get a shot on goal. As the play went on, the Blue Jackets were in the Lightning zone, looking to increase their lead. As a Blue Jacket pass went into the slot it appeared a golden opportunity for Ivan Provorov on Tomkins. It was not to be. Conor Sheary lifted Provorov’s stick and stole the puck. Sheary then fed it to a streaking Steven Stamkos down the right side. Over on the left side, Nick Paul was matching Stamkos stride for stride. As Stamkos closed in on the Columbus net, he attempted to feed the puck to Paul. The puck never reached Paul. It hit Columbus defenseman Jake Bean’s skate and went into the net for the Lightning goal. Stamkos was credited with his 4th goal of the season and we’re all tied up at one.

Tale of Two Goals

Clearly, scoring the tying goal gave the Lightning a little jump in their play. They began to get more puck possession after the Stamkos goal. The line of Paul, Sheary and Stamkos was at it again. Cycling the puck in the Blue Jackets zone, Erik Cernak wrapped the puck around from the left side to the right. Stamkos received that pass and was looking towards the net. He saw Sheary ease in from behind the net to Merzlikins’ left. Stamkos threaded a pass through three Columbus defenders and Sheary tapped the puck past Merzlikins. The Lightning took a 2-1 lead with that goal.

After taking the lead, the Lightning began to attempt to take control of the game. During the first period, both teams had 11 shots on goal. The story was different in the second period. By the end of the period, the Lightning took 12 shots to the Blue Jackets 5. Heading into the second intermission, Tampa held onto their 2-1 lead.

Road Warriors or Roadkill

Down to the last period, the question for the Lightning is can they hold onto the slimmest lead in sports? If they do, they will earn their first road win of the season. For the Blue Jackets, they are one good shot away from tying this game. Can they sustain sufficient pressure to get that goal? It was clear that Columbus was going to go all out to tie the game. But the Lightning withstood their initial push and as much as the home team wanted a goal, the road team was looking to increase their lead. 

As the period was almost seven minutes old, the Blue Jackets tied the game. Boone Jenner tipped in a shot from Zach Werenski past Tomkins. Brand new game, knotted up at two. Aside from tying the game, the other thing this goal accomplished was getting the crowd back in the game. A little over two minutes later, Columbus took the lead on a slap shot by Erik Gubrandson. Tomkins was slightly screened but Gubrandson whistled a screamer past him. Now, the crowd was in a frenzy and Columbus was up 3-2. 

With a half period left in the game, the Lightning had dug themselves a decent size hole. Sure, they could score the tying goal in the remaining time. But they haven’t done well thus far on the road. The crowd was only going to get louder and the momentum was in Columbus’ favor. 

Cooper pulled Tomkins with just under three minutes remaining. Despite the extra man, the Lightning couldn’t get a good look at Merzlikins. After a minute, the hustling Gaudreau beat everyone down ice and scored the empty net goal to make it 4-2. At least for now, the Lightning were roadkill tonight.

Three Stars

  1. Steven Stamkos – 1 goal, 1 assist. The Lightning dominated the 2nd period and Stamkos was the most dominating player in that period
  2. Boone Jenner – 1 goal and won 70% of the faceoffs he took
  3. Johnny Gaudreau – 1 empty net goal but he was flying up and down the ice and seemed to waltz into the Lightning zone all night long

What’s Next 

Saturday in Ottawa, the Lightning road trip continues as they face the Senators. Puck drop is at 7:00 pm.

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