Chasing history is all that’s left for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Toronto Maple Leafs, meanwhile, were chasing their best game, something they felt they hadn’t seen in weeks.
Tampa Bay hadn’t seen a loss since the weekend before losing to Montreal Tuesday. That’s viewed as a short stretch, considering the consistency the Bolts have shown this season. They hoped to get back on the winning track in an intriguing matchup.
You’ve Played How Many Times?
It seemed like a feeling out process in the opening minutes. That’s strange considering the two teams met just three weeks ago, for the third time this season.
Yet, the opening minutes were tame. Before and after Mitch Marner opened the scoring, it was mostly neutral-zone play, with few chances on either side. Marner capitalized on the first grade-A of the game. A foul Ryan McDonagh pass landed on Marner’s stick, who burst in and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.
As stated, the Marner goal didn’t necessarily open up the game. It wasn’t until the ten-minute mark or so that either time sustained any lengthy zone time. Tampa Bay began to do so for the majority of the period, but not without a few short strethches in their end, and arguably the best scoring chances of the game.
A Patrick Marleau wrister from the slot just caught the glove of Vasilevskiy, who barely turned aside Auston Matthews later. The American’s blast handcuffed Vasilevskiy, who narrowly held play.
While Tampa Bay trailed and gave up a few key chances, the big discerning factor was giveaways. Turnovers are huge in a game spent primarily between the blue lines. Toronto had ten giveaways in the first to Tampa Bay’s two. They ended the frame scoreless, with Ondrej Palat and company nearly burying one on an odd man rush, despite holding a 12-9 shot advantage.
Steven Stamkos can score in any situation. Shorthanded is included on that list, but he hadn’t done it since the 2015-16 season. Then the Leafs fell asleep.
More than a little time and room was all Stamkos needed to tie the game, when he slipped behind the Toronto power play unit and beat Frederik Andersen with a wrister. Tampa Bay’s third shorthanded goal against the Leafs this season tied the game 1-1.
If you were watching the game, the answer was yes. Stamkos was all over the ice in the opening two periods, joining a near-goal-rush with Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson but just losing the handle prior to opening the scoring.
After his goal, the captain came back hungry for more, drawing a penalty by using his speed to evade Trevor Moore. Stamkos looked to the heavens after Andersen got just a shoulder on a wonderful opportunity.
Following an unsuccessful man-advantage, Andersen made an incredible stop to prevent a blistering 15-fo0t clapper from finding a home. Who else? Stamkos pulling the trigger as part of a second period where he simply came as close to taking over a 1-1 hockey game as a man can.
Hard as Nails
The Bolts’ intensity on the puck was as evident as ever in the second period, a twenty minutes in which they killed two penalties and were narrowly outshot. The majority of the second period was similarly structured to the first, and winning puck battles helped the Bolts tie the game 1-1 after two.
Something in the Air
Alex Killorn’s dagger was one of those goals you could feel coming for a solid five-ten minutes before it went in. The Lightning became the first team to really dominate puck-possession for a long period of time, and began to gain some serious steam on the forecheck.
That’s when Mikhail Sergachev forced a turnover and Stamkos continued an impressive showing with a gorgeous fake-shot and backhand assist. The finish was nothing to scoff at either, as Killorn elevated the puck very quickly above Andersen.
Nikita Kucherov put the Lightning in some prestine company. With an empty net goal. The icing on the cake in this one happened to be Nikita Kucherov’s 40th of the season from the left-wall. He trails Alexander Mogilny by just one point for the single-season Russian-born points record.
That goal documented the Lightning as a powerhouse as deep as it is successful, when Kucherov became the team’s third forty goal scorer this season. The 2018-19 Bolts are the first group to feature three forty-goal men since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins. Incredible.
The dream isn’t dead. Tampa Bay can tie the all-time NHL wins record by virtue of one win. They’ve got one left. The Bolts take two of three in the Great White North, with a record-bid-saving two points over the Leafs, 3-1.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- Steven Stamkos- 1 goal, 1 assist: Stamkos was quite evidently the best player on the ice tonight. He created chance after chance, and both Lightning goals.
- Mitch Marner- 1 goal: Marner’s first period tally was a sign of things to come in this one. He used his speed and creativity to pot that one, and stir the pot offensively all night long.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy- 25 saves: While not overly busy, Vasilevskiy was strong when called upon, and faced some really quality looks within that save total, including shutting down Tavares and Matthews repeatedly.
The Lightning chase the record books, and close theirs on the season, in a 1PM matinee Saturday. They’ll take on the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.
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