Throughout the 2018-19 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have powered their way through the competition at a blistering pace. While individual and team records continue to be re-written, the Lightning’s eyes have remained on the Stanley Cup. In the meantime, however, they sought to add the Presidents’ Trophy to their mantle for the first time ever.
With the scrappy Arizona Coyotes in town fighting for their playoff lives, the Lightning knew that locking down the Presidents’ Trophy wouldn’t be easy. In a tight-checking game that came down to the final minutes, Tampa Bay rose to the occasion and clinched home-ice advantage throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And it wouldn’t be a Lightning victory this season without some sort of personal milestone being set.
Steven Stamkos scored his 36th goal of the season and 384th of his career, breaking Vinny Lecavalier’s franchise record of 383 career goals, while Victor Hedman, Anthony Cirelli, and Yanni Gourde added goals as the Lightning (56-13-7) took down the Coyotes 36-31-6 4-1 at Amalie Arena.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 shots for his 35th victory of the season as the Lightning earned a hard-fought win.
Stamkos’s record-breaking tally the highlight of an evenly-matched first period.
Throughout the opening 20 minutes, the Lightning found themselves with some problems getting out of their own zone and through the neutral zone thanks to Arizona’s sound defensive structure. The Coyotes are a team that doesn’t have a lot of high-end skill, but possess a strong work ethic. They kept the Lightning bottled up early on and pounced on a Jan Rutta turnover to take a 1-0 at 5:03. Richard Panik intercepted Rutta’s pass, fed it to Christian Dvorak, who dropped it to Clayton Keller. Keller made no mistake in burying the puck in the net for his 14th goal.
At 6:54, history was made when Stamkos scored a goal that was similar to the first one of his career.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) March 18, 2019
Stamkos maintained position in front of the Arizona net, where he tipped in Ryan McDonagh’s shot from the point past Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper. Stamkos scored his first career goal, on October 30, 2008 in Buffalo, off a similar redirection. The crowd at Amalie Arena gave Stamkos an ovation for the next 30 seconds after the ensuing faceoff. He acknowledged them with a wave during the next stoppage in play as the cheering grew louder.
While the Lightning maintained a slight shot edge of 8-7 through 20 minutes, Arizona created better opportunities. Those included a breakaway for Josh Archibald and a partial break for Michael Grabner. Vasilevskiy came up with big saves on both chances.
The Lightning tilt the ice in their favor in the second, but can’t take advantage.
While the Coyotes got the better of 5-on-5 play in the first, it was the Lightning who turned the tables in the second period. Tampa Bay kept the Coyotes from successfully exiting their own zone, controlling puck possession for long stretches. However, the Bolts didn’t put many shots on net, as their shots were often either off target or blocked by Arizona skaters. When their shots did get through, Kuemper was there to make the save, but the Lightning’s best chances simply didn’t get on net.
A great shift from the third line gives the Lightning the lead early in the third.
The Bolts took their first lead of the night 44 seconds into the third period thanks to an unbelievable shift from the third line of Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, and Mathieu Joseph. Killorn put a shot on net, leading to a rebound that bounced to Cirelli. Cirelli saw Hedman creeping up from the point, and Cirelli backhanded a beautiful feed to him. Hedman finished the play off for his 10th of the season and a 2-1 Tampa Bay lead.
The rest of the game was a tight-checking affair that resembled much of the second period, with some drama sprinkled in with under two minutes to go. Stamkos took a delay of game penalty for flipping the puck over the glass with 1:39 left. On the ensuing Arizona power play, the Coyotes created some of their best chances of the night, but Vasilevskiy stopped them all. Cirelli iced the game with an empty net goal with 44.8 seconds left, and then Gourde capped it off with a second empty-netter to make it 4-1.
The Lightning will hit the road for their next three games, beginning with a huge showdown against the Capitals in Washington on Wednesday night. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.
-The Coyotes had a 29-24 edge in shots on goal.
-The Lightning ended a two-game losing streak to Arizona at home. The victory also marked just the second win in six meetings against the Coyotes.
-Nikita Kucherov saw his four-game point streak come to an end.
-Hedman is now on a 5-game point streak (one goal, four assists)
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Steven Stamkos – Set the Lightning’s career goal-scoring mark with his 384th, breaking Vinny Lecavalier’s team record.
2nd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 28 shots, including multiple crucial saves on a late Arizona power play when they were pressing for the tying goal.
3rd Star: Victor Hedman – Tallied the game-winning goal in the third period.
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