During the first quarter of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have proven to be a resilient and resourceful bunch that have had to rally from behind several times this season. At different times, they’ve been plagued by either slow starts, baffling turnovers, giveaways in the defensive zone, inconsistent play, and an occasional soft goal that makes you scratch your head. During Friday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena, all of those mistakes, errors, and turnovers happened at once against a quality opponent, and even though they made another valiant attempt at a comeback, there was no denying that Columbus was the better team.
Brandon Saad’s goal at the 4:34 mark of the third period broke a 3-3 tie after the Lightning (13-8-1) had rallied from a 3-1 deficit, and Cam Atkinson’s shorthanded tally with 8:47 left put the final nail in the Lightning’s coffin, giving the Blue Jackets (11-5-3) a 5-3 win over the Bolts as they had five different players put the puck in the net. Tampa Bay had won seven of its last eight homes games against Columbus going into Friday’s showdown, but were outshot 38-28 on this night.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 25 saves for the win while Ben Bishop took the loss, making 33 saves and allowing five goals. It was the fourth time this season that Bishop has allowed four or more goals in a game. He was quick to take responsibility for the loss, although he certainly couldn’t be blamed for all of the goals.
“We battled our way back to tie it in the third, you know I’ve gotta come up with a big save there,” said Bishop in reference to the last goal that he gave up. “It just surprised me. Gotta come up with a big save there. We battled back and I’ll take the blame for this one.”
The goal that Bishop was referring to was Atkinson’s shorthanded goal with 8:47 left in the third period that gave Columbus a 5-3 lead. Towards the end of a crucial power play, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman made a terrible giveaway, simply stumbling and losing control of the puck in his own zone. Atkinson collected the puck and caught Bishop off guard, beating him for his eighth goal of the season, which came unassisted. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was quick to say afterwards that goaltending was not the problem in tonight’s game.
“We could’ve put Ben and (Andrei) Vasilevskiy in at the same time and I don’t think it would’ve made a difference,” quipped Cooper in his post-game press conference. “It had nothing to do with goaltending.”
Instead, Cooper shifted the blame to his team’s poor play both in their defensive zone and overall.
“We were just red-rotten, that was it, from start to finish. I don’t even know how else to put it,” said Cooper. “It’s 82 games, chalk one up to a stinker, that was it. We got taught a lesson tonight by a team that worked way harder than us.”
Cooper’s statement was 100% completely accurate. From the beginning of this one, it was obvious the Lightning were suffering from some sort of post-Thanksgiving hangover, because they came out flat as a board in the opening period like they have many times this season, and it didn’t take the Blue Jackets long to pounce. Just 3:46 into the game, Alexander Wennberg capped off a sequence in which the Bolts turned the puck over in their own zone, jumping onto a loose puck in front of the net, making a move, and easily beating Bishop for his fourth goal of the season and putting Columbus up 1-0. Saad and Jack Johnson got the assists, and it only got worse for the Lightning from there. At the 7:36 mark, Luke Witkowski went to the box for tripping, giving the Blue Jackets, who had the top-ranked power play in the league, their first opportunity with the man advantage. After Sam Gagner hit the crossbar, Zach Werenski fired a shot that hit the backboards and caromed to Atkinson at the side of the net. Atkinson tried to stuff it home, but the puck squirted over to Nick Foligno at the top of the crease. Foligno kicked the puck to his stick and tapped it in for an easy power play goal that stood up after video review, giving Columbus a 2-0 lead on his eight of the season as Atkinson and Werenski collected the assists.
The Lightning didn’t even register their first shot on goal until there was 9:55 left in the opening period. They continued to turn the puck over, failed to protect the middle of the ice, and spent very little time in Columbus’s zone. Their lone quality shot on goal came with 11 seconds left when Nikita Kucherov found Brian Boyle in front, whose shot was swallowed up by Bobrovsky, and the teams went into the intermission with the Blue Jackets holding a 10-4 lead in shots.
Early in the second period, more giveaways nearly came back to haunt the Lightning, as Nikita Nesterov turned the puck over in front of Bishop, only for it to take a fortunate roll into the Lightning goaltender. Cooper even shuffled up his lines for the second period, reuniting the original Triplets line of Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat. The move paid off, as the trio began to generate a few quality scoring chances before finally breaking through for a goal at the 8:33 mark. Palat had made a huge play moments before by clearing out a loose puck in front of Bishop before the Jackets could jump on it. Johnson would use his speed to carry the puck into the Columbus zone, where he then made a wraparound attempt that slipped through to Kucherov, who was at the top of the crease. Kucherov tapped it in for an easy goal, his 11th of the season, cutting the Blue Jackets’ lead to 2-1 off of assists from Johnson and Palat. Kucherov now has a goal against every other NHL team. The good vibes were short-lived, however, as giveaways would continue to haunt the Lightning. Just 29 seconds after they got on the board, the Lightning found themselves down by two goals again. Braydon Coburn committed a turnover in Tampa Bay’s zone and Nikita Nesterov couldn’t hold his position on Josh Anderson in front. A shot led to rebound and a scramble in front, where Anderson was able to knock it into the net for his sixth goal, with Scott Hartnell getting the helper.
Tampa Bay continued to have trouble getting pucks on net, as they were trailing 20-8 in the shots on goal department. They needed some kind of spark to carry them into the second intermission, and the Lightning’s Jason Garrison gave it to them, scoring his first goal of the season with 1:32 left in the middle period to cut the Jackets’ lead to 3-2. The play began when Valtteri Filppula carried the puck down the left wing and dropped it back to Garrison, who fired a shot on net that was stopped by Bobrovsky. Tampa Bay crashed the net, with Garrison, Ryan Callahan, and Brayden Point converging on the rebound, where Garrison tucked it home to give the Bolts some life. Filppula got the primary assist, and Luke Witkowski got the secondary helper, giving him his first career NHL point.
The Lightning continued to swarm for the remainder of the period and carried over that strong play into the third period, when the Triplets continuing to wreak havoc. Palat scored his fourth goal of the season at the 3:37 mark off of assists from Kucherov and Hedman. During a lengthy delayed penalty, Hedman carried the puck down the right wing and dished it to Kucherov in the right circle. Kucherov immediately found a streaking Palat, who fired it home to even the game up at 3-3.
But once again, the good vibes would be short-lived, as Saad notched the game-winning tally just 57 seconds later. The Lightning won a faceoff in their own zone, but the puck went into the corner, where Wennberg outworked Garrison and took control of the puck. Witkowski lost track of Saad in front of the Lightning net, and Wennberg found Saad with a centering pass. Saad converted for his fifth goal of the season, putting Columbus up 4-3 and a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way. Tampa Bay pulled Bishop for an extra skater with five minutes left, but they weren’t able to muster much in the way of quality scoring chances, as time ran out and the Lightning were left to pick up the pieces and get ready to hit the road again.
The Bolts will begin a three-game road swing on Sunday afternoon when they travel to TD Garden to take on the Boston Bruins. Opening faceoff is set for 1 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Brandon Saad – Scored the game-winning goal early in the third period and tacked on an assist on the team’s first goal.
2nd Star: Alexander Wennberg – Opened the scoring just under four minutes into the game and tallied the primary assist on Saad’s game-winning goal.
3rd Star: Cam Atkinson – Picked up an assist and scored a shorthanded goal over halfway through the third period that put the game out of reach.
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