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Special teams help Lightning topple Flames to end losing streak

Alex Walworth | The Scrum Sports

If you’ve paid any attention to the Tampa Bay Lightning since the calendar flipped to 2020, you’ve heard all about their recent special teams issues. Most notably, you’ve heard about their issues on the power play. A slump that, entering Saturday’s game against the Calgary Flames, reached epidemic proportions. Just how bad? The Bolts’ power play had been in a 6-for-66 slump since January 1. While Tampa Bay’s 5-on-5 play was solid on Tuesday against Toronto and Thursday against Chicago, they knew their power play and penalty killing units needed to step up after lackluster performances in those two games.

Although one game doesn’t necessarily mean that the team’s recent special teams issues are completely solved, Saturday’s performance by the power play and penalty could turn out to be a step in the right direction.

The Lightning’s power play went 2-for-4 and their penalty killers came away with a shorthanded goal, s the Lightning (41-19-5, 87 points) snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory over the Flames (33-26-7, 73 points) at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay still trails the Boston Bruins by seven points for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Earlier in the day, Boston earned a 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders.

Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat helped lead the way with power play goals. Yanni Gourde notched the team’s shorthanded tally, while Alex Killorn scored the eventual game-winner. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 18 of 21 shots for the victory. On top of that, Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev each earned two assists. Blake Coleman and Zach Bogosian registered one assist each, their first points as members of the Lightning.

Tough news regarding the captain

Unfortunately for the Lightning, the day was dampened by breaking news just before the opening faceoff. The team announced that captain Steven Stamkos will miss the next 6-8 weeks due to surgery needed for a core muscle injury. Before missing Thursday’s loss to Chicago, Stamkos sat second on the team in goals (29), points (66), and tied for third in assists (37). While this isn’t the first time the Lightning have endured an extended injury-induced absence from Stamkos, it’s still a huge loss due to the fact he’s been playing the best two-way hockey of his career this season.

The power play delivers and video review gets it right

Following a slow, methodical opening 10 minutes for both teams, Johnson provided some much-needed power play production at the 13:52 mark of the opening period. With Anthony Cirelli providing a screen in front of the net, Sergachev lifted a wrist shot from the point that Johnson deflected past Flames goalie David Rittich for a 1-0 Lightning lead.

Not only did that goal snap an 11-game goalless drought for Johnson, but it also was his first power play goal of the season. After that goal, this period became a lot more interesting. Calgary began pushing back, appearing to tie the game with 5:05 to go in the period. Upon further review, the officials disallowed Mikael Backlund’s goal after correctly ruling he kicked in Matthew Tkachuk’s centering pass past Vasilevskiy. Tampa Bay largely controlled 5-on-5 play, out-shooting the Flames 12-6. Both teams began generating more chances over the last half of the period after not creating much of anything over the first 12 minutes.

The Lightning’s special teams come to life

Tampa Bay’s solid 5-on-5 play continued into the second period, yet their special teams stole the show. With Sean Monahan in the box for hooking, Palat fired a shot from the right circle that eluded Rittich and appeared to have hit the stick of a Flames player. Palat’s 16th of the season gave Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead with 22 seconds to go with the man-advantage. At the 9:52 mark, Sergachev went to the box for holding the stick, but on the ensuing Flames power play, it was tough to tell which team has the man-advantage.

The Bolts put on a penalty killing clinic, with their new acquisitions, Barclay Goodrow Coleman, leading the way. Goodrow created a turnover and a shorthanded breakaway for himself, but Rittich closed up the five-hold when Goodrow tried to slip it between his legs. Goodrow and Coleman then generated a 2-on-1, yet Rittich denied Coleman’s shot. However, Gourde finally broke through on the penalty kill. Flying down the wing, Gourde sniped a shot past Rittich for his 10th of the season and a 3-0 Bolts lead at the 11:50 mark. Bogosian earned an assist on that play for his first point as a member of the Lightning.

Calgary mounts a rally, but the Lightning gain some breathing room

The Flames scored a pair of goals just 52 seconds apart to turn a three-goal deficit into a compelling hockey game starting at the 13:12 mark. Andrew Mangiapane zipped down the left wing and put a wrist shot under Vasilevskiy’s arm from the short side to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-1. Elias Lindholm then blasted a shot from the right circle that deflected off the skate of Palat and through Vasilevskiy to make it a 3-2 game.

Despite the two quick goals, Killorn answered right back just 53 seconds after Lindholm’s tally. Coleman received the puck along the left wing off a Braydon Coburn pass and chipped it to Killorn. He promptly found himself with an open lane to the net. Killorn deked and put a beautiful backhand shot past Rittich for his 24th goal, extending Tampa Bay’s lead to 4-2. The Lightning also held an impressive 27-15 edge in shots on goal and a 37-28 lead in shot attempts.

Some tense moments in the third, but the Bolts close it out

While the shot totals weren’t high for either team in the third period (8-6 for Tampa Bay, 35-21 for the Lightning overall), both teams created a few quality opportunities for themselves as it was a fairly even period in terms of 5-on-5 play. However, the Flames kept it interesting with 2:49 left as Sean Monahan chipped home a power play goal to cut the Bolts’ lead to 4-3. Calgary kept up the pressure after pulling Rittich for an extra skater. Despite this, the Lightning were able to hang on, and it appeared that Brayden Point iced it with an empty net goal with 5.3 seconds left, but Cedric Paquette was offside. Despite the goal not counting, the Lightning came away with the much-needed win to end their four-game losing streak.

Tampa Bay returns to action when they host NHL-leading Boston at Amalie Arena on Tuesday night at 7 pm.

For postgame coverage of this game, check out The Scrum Sports on YouTube.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Alex Killorn – Scored the eventual game-winner in the second period.

2nd Star: Yanni Gourde – Notched a shorthanded goal.

3rd Star: Ondrej Palat – Tallied a power play goal and was in on several scoring chances throughout the night.

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