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Special teams and goaltending fall short as Lightning fall to Blues

Joe Tomasone | The Scrum Sports

Since the calendar flipped over to November, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s special teams have been nothing short of dynamic. Entering Wednesday’s contest against the St. Louis Blues, the Lightning had allowed one power play goal in their previous nine games, killing off 96.5% of opposing power plays in November. They scored two shorthanded goals on the same opposing power play in a 5-2 win over Buffalo on Monday night.On top of that, they also owned the league’s best power play on home ice at 41.2% and the league’s second-best PK at home at 89.7%.

Unfortunately for the Lightning (12-8-2, 26 points), their recent run of spectacular play on special teams did not help them on this night at Amalie Arena.

Despite a three-point night from Nikita Kucherov, a goal and an assist from Brayden Point, and Anthony Cirelli extending his points streak to six games, the Lightning’s power play and penalty kill failed to come up big when the team needed them in a 4-3 loss to the Blues (15-5-6, 36 points), ending their three-game winning streak. In addition, Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t post his best night despite stopping 29 of 33 shots. Although Vasilevskiy’s recent performances have been solid, the same could not be said from tonight’s performance. Of the four goals allowed, he could probably take the blame for three of them, although one of them came immediately after a 5-on-3 ended.

On the other end, Jordan Binnington stopped 33 of 35 shots, stopping several shots from in close throughout the evening. Oskar Sundqvist scored a pair of goals before exiting the game with an injury, while Ivan Barbashev notched three assists.

Both goalies come up big early on

Despite a scoreless opening stanza on Wednesday night, the Lightning and Blues put on an entertaining show in the first 20 minutes. In fact, both goalies were on their game early in this contest. Tampa Bay jumped out to a 7-1 lead in shots on goal, keeping St. Louis pinned into their own zone for long stretches. Pat Maroon and Ondrej Palat highlighted this stretch with a pair of high-quality opportunities. Kucherov forced a turnover, working the puck over to Palat to Binnington’s left. However, Binnington flashed the glove and robbed Palat of a goal. Maroon’s look occurred thanks to a nifty pass from Cedric Paquette off the rush.

However, the Blues were unfazed, tilting the ice heavily back into their favor over the final 10 minutes of the period. While the Bolts’ performance wasn’t poor like it was for much of the teams’ first meeting on November 19th, the Blues still controlled the action in the last half of the period. Nonetheless, Vasilevskiy came to the rescue. A miscommunication between Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev led to a wraparound chance for David Perron. Late in the period, Jacob De La Rose found Troy Brouwer flying down the middle of the ice with a perfect pass, but Vasilevskiy came up big. However, his best save came on a shot down low from his right on Jaden Schwartz, sliding over to deflect a puck out of harm’s way with his blocker. St. Louis held a 13-10 edge in shots on goal after 20 minutes.

Special teams and offense wake up

Kucherov broke the stalemate at the 3:53 mark of the period immediately after an offensive zone faceoff win by Brayden Point. Kucherov wheeled to his left beyond the slot and let one go from long range. Binnington appeared not to see it in time, as the puck went through him and into the net for Kucherov’s team-leading ninth of the season. Just 31 seconds later, Tampa Bay appeared poised to take a 2-0 lead after going on a power play. However, St. Louis had other ideas. While deep in his own zone, Barbashev slipped the puck to Sundqvist, who began carrying the puck out of the zone. Victor Hedman tried to keep it in, but Sundqvist got around him and was off to the races, beating Vasilevskiy on a breakaway for a shorthanded goal and tying it up 1-1 at 5:31 .

At 8:40, Sundqvist found the back of the net, set up by Barbashev once again. Barbashev dished it to Sundqvist from the right wing, where Sundqvist beat Vasilevskiy from the right circle through the five hole for his eighth of the season and second of the night, putting the Blues up 2-1. When looking back at the film, it’s a goal Vasilevskiy will definitely want back.

Cirelli shows off his work ethic by tying it up

Despite falling behind, the Lightning began to chip away and were rewarded when Anthony Cirelli scored due to sheer willpower:

Kucherov started it off by floating a shot towards the net that McDonagh got a piece of. Binnington made the save, but he was caught out of position. Cirelli took a swipe at the puck, yet missed. However, he was able to twist around, and on the second effort, dove at the puck in the crease and knocked it home to tie the game 2-2 with his sixth of the season at 11:39.

Tampa Bay fed off this goal, controlling play for much of the rest of the period. Tyler Johnson pounced on a St. Louis turnover in the Blues’ zone, only to see Binnington make a save. Yanni Gourde was handed a gift of a turnover with a wide open net, but he didn’t get enough on what appeared to be a bouncing puck. The shots favored the Blues 25-22 after two periods, but the Lightning’s play at even strength was solid.

The power play helps clinch it for St. Louis

Unfortunately for the Bolts, their 5-on-5 play proved unable to bear any more fruit. On top of that, Vasilevskiy continued to struggle into the third period. Zach Sanford put St. Louis up for good with 8:53 remaining in the period. As the Blues gained the blue line, Barbashev collected a puck from Tyler Bozak and fed Sanford in the right circle. Sanford proceeded to rip a one-timer that bounced off of Vasilevskiy and in to give the Blues a 3-2 lead. Vasilevskiy looked like he may have lost track of the puck, as he didn’t slide over in time to make the save, leading to the puck going off of him and in.

Merely 41 seconds later, the Lightning began finding themselves in penalty trouble. Alex Killorn went to the box for slashing, and 16 seconds later, Yanni Gourde followed right behind after being called for tripping. Facing a 5-on-3 penalty kill situation for 1:44, Tampa Bay gutted it out. Vasilevskiy came up with a pair of huge saves on Perron, both off of one-timers from the left circle. Unfortunately for the Lightning, it wasn’t enough. Soon after the first penalty ended, the Blues continued to apply pressure. McDonagh lost an edge, which ended up leaving Brayden Schenn with an open look at the net. He waited and waited, then fired a shot that bounced off of Vasilevskiy and ended up in the back of the net to make it 4-2.

The Lightning made it interesting late, but couldn’t find the tying goal

Tampa Bay made it interesting late thanks to a power play goal from Brayden Point with 5:37 remaining, capping off a fabulous passing sequence with Kucherov and Kevin Shattenkirk earning the assists. The Bolts nearly tied it up in the final minute after pulling Vasilevskiy, but Binnington managed to keep the puck out following a wild scramble, eventually leading to the Blues coming away with the win.

Tampa Bay hits the road on Friday for a 5 pm contest against the Washington Capitals in our nation’s capital.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Oskar Sundqvist – Scored two goals before exiting the game in the second intermission due to a lower-body injury.

2nd Star: Anthony Cirelli – Tied Nikita Kucherov for the team lead with seven shots on goal and made a tremendous diving effort to knock a loose puck into the back of the net.

3rd Star: Ivan Barbashev – Finished the night with three assists.

For postgame reaction from the locker room, be sure to check out The Scrum Sports on YouTube

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