BY BROOKS ROLAND
What a difference the holidays can make.
Four days after a putrid 1-for-10 performance on the power play in a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Tampa Bay Lightning returned from the holiday break to host the Columbus Blue Jackets, another team that has struggled to kill penalties on the road. This time, Steven Stamkos put the Lightning on his back and for one night, Tampa Bay’s power play woes were a thing of the past.
Stamkos scored a pair of power play goals 32 seconds apart in the second period and also added an assist, while Jonathan Marchessault and Nikita Kucherov had two assists each in a 5-2 victory over the Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena. Mike Blunden had a goal and an assist in the first multi-point game of his NHL career, while Jason Garrison tacked on an insurance goal in the third period. Ben Bishop stopped 30 of 32 shots in earning the win for the Lightning. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Stamkos’s goals were the fastest two back-to-back power play goals by the same player in Lightning history. Marchessault extended his point streak to six games, while Kucherov’s point streak is now five games and counting. Although Tampa Bay finished 3-for-7 on the power play, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper was pretty blunt when describing his team’s effort.
“It was a weird game. I think we were extremely fortunate, to be honest,” said Cooper. “I thought they carried the play a little bit in the first period, we were trying to find our legs. They played hard.”
Cooper was correct, as the Blue Jackets not only got the better of the Lightning during 5-on-5 play in the first period, but it seemed to be part of the story for the remainder of the game. However, it wouldn’t take long for the Lightning to get another crack at turning their power play around, as Columbus’s Scott Hartnell took a slashing penalty just 2:50 into the game. Unfortunately for the Lightning, they came up empty on their first man-advantage, with the best chance coming off a shot by Nikita Nesterov that was tipped just wide of the net by Alex Killorn. Soon after, Tampa Bay would get on the board as Blunden scored his second goal of the season when he tipped in an Andrej Sustr shot from the point at the 5:34 mark to put the Bolts up 1-0. Sustr and Erik Condra would earn the assists, as it ended a 20-game streak without an assist for Condra. Sustr’s assist was his fourth point in the Lightning’s last five games. It would mark the high point of the period for the Lightning, as the Blue Jackets would pick up the majority of the shots the rest of the way. Columbus’s Rene Bourque, who has been a thorn in the Lightning’s side over the years, scored his first goal of the season when a Boone Jenner shot bounced off his skates and in. Ryan Johansen would earn the secondary assist on Bourque’s goal, tying the game 1-1 at the 9:44 mark. Marchessault had a chance off a rush after a drop pass by Valtteri Filppula, but Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo made the save. Vlad Namestnikov had an open look a couple minutes later, but chose to deke and lost control of the puck. Bourque had two great chances back-to-back on one shift, but Bishop came up big both times. The Jackets got their first power play when Victor Hedman was called for delay-of-game, but the Lightning’s penalty killing unit came up big, thanks to plays by Braydon Coburn and Cedric Paquette. With 3:24 left, Jenner was whistled for holding, but the Lightning’s power play came up empty again, as the only good chance was a Stamkos one-timer that went wide. Shots were 14-9 in favor of Columbus, who also had a 15-6 edge in faceoffs.
The fireworks would begin during the second period, and the Lightning’s power play would finally rise from the ashes, but not before Columbus took a 2-1 lead thanks to Hartnell’s goal off a deflection in front of Bishop at the 3:07 mark. Alexander Wennberg and Dalton Prout would pick up the assists. Tampa Bay would have another couple of scoring chances before Prout was called for cross checking at the 4:56 mark, kicking off the Blue Jackets’ march to the penalty box. Right off the faceoff, Gregory Campbell was whistled for a faceoff violation, giving the Lightning a two-man advantage for 1:58. Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson would then take his place in the sin bin just a couple of seconds later after clearing the puck over the glass from his own zone, earning a delay-of-game penalty and giving Tampa Bay a two-minute 5-on-3 power play. After a few shot attempts that missed their target, Stamkos would convert a cross-crease feed from Kucherov with a diving one-timer that beat Korpisalo for a power play goal at the 6:21 mark. Marchessault would pick up the secondary assist, as the game was now tied 2-2. Just 32 seconds later, Stamkos waited for a passing lane to open up while sitting to Korpisalo’s right. There wasn’t an open passing lane, so Stamkos simply fired a shot past Korpisalo for his second power play marker of the night, putting the Bolts up 3-2. Marchessault and Kucherov got the assists on that goal as well.
“When a team gives you an opportunity, you have to make them pay,” said Cooper. “I just don’t know if we’ve done that as much this year as we’d have liked. But they gave us the opportunity.”
At the 9:29 mark, Hartnell would earn a game misconduct for charging when he ran Bishop behind the Lighting net, sparking a huge melee that saw Alex Killorn get a two-minute roughing penalty while Namestnikov and Ryan Johansen dropped the gloves, with Namestnikov getting the best of that fight. The crowed roared their approval, and then had more to get excited about when Nesterov scored his second goal of the season on the ensuing power play, with Callahan and Stamkos getting the assists. Nesterov one-timed Callahan’s beautiful pass from the right circle into the net to put the Lightning up 4-2 at the 14:17 mark, a lead they would take into the second intermission despite being outshot 22-18.
Columbus replaced Korpisalo with Curtis McElhinney before the start of the third period and put some early pressure on the Lightning, generating three shots on goal in the first couple of minutes. They also picked had another power play chance when Blunden was called for slashing at the 2:24 mark, but their lone good chance was a shot by Johansen that was smothered by Bishop. Garrison provided the insurance marker with 15:21 left in the game, when he forced a turnover in Tampa Bay zone and ended up with the puck on a 2-on-1. Instead of passing, Garrison called his own number and roofed a wicked wrist shot past Korpisalo to the short side, giving the Lightning a 5-2 lead on his first goal since the season opener. Blunden picked up the assist, and the Lightning were on their way to a much-needed victory on home ice. Korpisalo was pulled for Curtis McElhinney, but by then, it was too late for Columbus, who couldn’t overcome the Lightning’s proficiency on special teams.
“That’s a perfect example of what it can do to a hockey game if you execute,” said Stamkos when asked about the team’s success on the power play. “It’s obviously a little different with the five-on-threes, but we didn’t take them (the power plays) for granted.”
With the win, the Lightning are now 18-15-3. Coupled with the Montreal Canadiens’ sixth consecutive loss, Tampa Bay is now just four points out of first place in the Atlantic Division despite being in sixth place. The Bolts return to action Monday night when they host the struggling Canadiens in the fourth game of this six-game homestand. The opening faceoff is at 7:30 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
- Steven Stamkos – Picked up his 15th and 16th goals of the season, both on a crucial 5-on-3 when the Lightning were trailing 2-1 in the second period. Also added an assist
- Nikita Kucherov – Earned assists on both of Stamkos’s goals, extending his point streak to five games.
- Mike Blunden – Tallied a goal and an assist in the first multi-point game of his NHL career.
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