The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets came into Sunday’s contest with eyes towards finishing out the regular season despite having different motivations for doing so. The Tampa Bay Lightning came into Columbus reeling from three straight losses; seeing their early season inconsistencies rear their ugly heads again and suddenly tumble down the Eastern Conference standings after being the two seed only one week ago. Tampa is now just looking for the regular season to end as quick as possible, while they still find themselves in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets are looking for the end of the regular season to come due to having resided to their fate as a draft lottery team prior to the all-star break. The end of the season will allow them to begin to focus on building for the future, as no amount of wins this year will change their fate. Both teams expected to see a tough physical game as the Blue Jackets best chance to beat the Lightning would be to use their size advantage against the smaller and quicker Lightning.
The 1st period started with the Columbus Blue Jackets taking a penalty immediately after the face off, as Columbus defenseman Scott Hartnell would take a tripping penalty on Andrej Sustr. The subsequent Tampa Bay Lightning power play would see several scoring chances but they were unable to beat Blue Jacket goal tender Sergei Bobrovsky to get an early lead. The Lightning appeared to have a clear strategy from their head coach Jon Cooper; shoot the puck early and often as they would test the Columbus defense with several shots early in the 1st period. Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman would swallow up an apparent Blue Jacket breakaway as he completely pushed Brandon Dubinsky off the puck as he attempted to get a shot off on the Lightning net. Columbus forward Brandon Saad would continue to give the Lightning defenders issues nearly scoring a couple of times midway through the 1st period. Saad’s efforts would eventually lead to Tampa penalty taken by Vladislav Namestnikov getting called for holding as the Blue Jackets would get their first power play of the game midway through the 1st period. The Blue Jackets initially thought they had taken the lead on the power play after they put the puck into the Tampa net, however the goal was immediately waved off due to a Columbus defender making contact with Ben Bishop’s leg, and knocking the goalie to the ice preventing him from making a save attempt on the shot. The Blue Jacket fans would begin to heckle Bishop due to their belief he embellished the contact that resulted in the no goal call. The Tampa Bay Lightning penalty kill would close out the rest of the Blue Jacket power play keeping the game tied 0-0 late in the 1st period. The 1st period would end with Tampa forward Vladislav Namestnikov and Blue Jacket Brandon Dubinksy getting tangled up in the boards and both receiving roughing penalties after the 1st period buzzer sounded. Both teams would head to the locker room tied 0-0, with the Tampa Bay Lightning holding a 13-5 shots on goal advantage after the 1st period.
The 2nd period would start with both clubs playing down a man after the dual rough penalties called at the end of the 1st period. The Tampa Bay Lightning would get a few good looks during the 4 on 4 action but Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky would turn away the Tampa shots keeping the game level early in the 2nd period. Bobrovsky would not be as fortunate a few shifts later as one of his own defenders would knock his stick away from him and Steven Stamkos would capitalize, blasting a Nikita Kucherov one time pass over Bobrovsky’s glove on the short side. The goal would be his 30th goal of the season and give Tampa the first lead of the day at 1-0, early in the 2nd period. Things would continue to get chippy on the ice as Columbus forward Nick Foligno would blatantly trip Ben Bishop behind the net, drawing a penalty as well as several Lightning players looking to give him an extra shot after colliding with their goaltender. The Lightning would get their second power play of the game after the refs would sort out the scrum of players behind the Tampa net after the contact with Bishop. The power play would come with a price however, as Lightning scoring dynamo Nikita Kucherov would take a blindside cheap head shot during the scrum and would be sent to the locker room for further evaluation. The loss of Kucherov did not help the Lightning power play, the special teams unit would never threaten Bobrovsky and see their 15th straight power play be killed without a goal keeping the game 1-0 Tampa midway through the 2nd period. Steven Stamkos was sent to the box for interference midway through the 2nd period, the penalty would give Columbus their second power play of the game. Tampa’s penalty kill would continue to be the opposite of their power play unit, as they would kill Columbus’s second power play without any real threats to the Lightning net. Ben Bishop would continue to be on the receiving end of Blue Jacket fans heckling every time he touched the puck; the animosity stemmed from Columbus fans believing Bishop had embellished the contact on the early disallowed goal and on the 2nd period penalty call on Nick Foligno. The heckling did not appear to bother Bishop however, as he would continue to keep his clean sheet stopping multiple Columbus shots late in the 2nd period. Ben Bishop’s strong effort would get Tampa to the locker room with the 1-0 lead after two periods of hockey. The Lightning would maintain their shots on goal advantage 28-21 after two periods.
The 3rd period began with the Tampa Bay Lightning looking to figure out how to play with only three lines the rest of the game after losing two forwards Valterri Fippula and Nikita Kucherov in the previous periods. The Lightning and Blue Jackets would both struggle to establish any real sustained offensive zone pressure seeing several rushes end in single shot attempts or dump and chase possessions that were easily turned away. The Tampa Bay Lightning finally broke the 3rd period open as center Tyler Johnson would force a bad Columbus turnover and feed Vladislav Namestnikov who would beat the Columbus goalie giving Tampa a 2-0 lead midway through the 3rd period. The Lightning would take a hooking penalty on the next shift after the Namestnikov goal giving Columbus their third power play of the game. The Tampa penalty kill would continue to show why they are the better of the two special teams units as Ondrej Palat would force a turnover starting a breakaway; Palat would give a drop pass to Steven Stamkos who was calling out to Palat as he trailed the play and the Lightning captain would not disappoint burying a shorthanded goal to give the Lightning a commanding 3-0 lead midway through the 3rd period. The Lightning appeared to switch to cruise control, looking to get out of Columbus without losing any more forwards but Ryan Callahan would hit Columbus forward Dalton Prout with a high stick which also drew blood; setting up a four-minute Columbus power play with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game. Any ideas the Blue Jackets had of crawling back into the game on the extended power play were quickly put to rest as Steven Stamkos would return the favor to his teammate Ondrej Palat with a beautiful cross ice pass that Palat would tip in past Bobrovsky for Tampa’s second short-handed goal of the game; giving the Lightning a huge 4-0 lead late in the 3rd period. The Tampa Bay penalty kill ensured they protected Ben Bishop’s fourth shutout of the season killing off the rest of the Callahan high sticking double minor penalty. The Blue Jackets would attempt two more cheap shots late in the 3rd attempting to goad the Lightning into meaningless fist fights, but the Lightning maintained their composure running out the clock to get a critical 4-0 victory and two points in the standings. Both clubs would finish with 37 shots on goal.
The Lightning would improve to 40-24-5, with 85 points. The Blue Jackets would fall to 28-33-8, with 64 points on the year.
The Lightning will continue their road trip as they head to Toronto on Tuesday March 15th, to face the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game can be seen locally on SUN sports with a 7:30 pm puck drop.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
- Steven Stamkos– Stamkos was flat-out brilliant today providing two goals his 30th and 31st on the year, and chipping in an assist on another shorthanded goal. The Lightning losing two forwards during the game put added pressure on their remaining healthy ones and the Bolts captain did not disappoint. Stamkos had a hand in three of Tampa’s four goals, two of which were short-handed. Most teams will go decades looking for a player of Stamkos’s caliber, today he showed how special he is leading Tampa to victory.
- Ben Bishop–Oh hey it’s goalie with the best goals against average just putting up another shut out; his fourth of the year. Bishop got tested several times in the first couple periods, particularly by his nemesis Brandon Saad but he did not fold. Despite the crowd heckling him constantly, and the Blue Jacket players consistently attempting to rough him up with hits & trips, the veteran goalie was a brick wall today providing his team the anchor in net it will need if it wants to make a deep playoff run.
- Ondrej Palat– It’s not every day you can contribute to two short-handed goals and still only end up as the third star but Palat does today. Palat was critical in breaking this game wide open today all starting with his heads up play on the penalty kill. Palat’s unselfishness on the first short-handed goal to Stamkos got rewarded, as he would get a short-handed goal himself later in the 3rd period from Stamkos putting the final nail in the Columbus coffin.
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