Throughout much of this season, the frequency in which the Tampa Bay Lightning have given up the first goal and struggled during the opening period of games have been well documented, as they allowed the opposition to score the first goal in 24 times this season heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets. Although that pesky problem of allowing the opposition to score first reared its ugly head again, it was actually the Bolts’ play in the second period that cost them a valuable two points in the standings.
After Matthew Peca’s first career NHL goal tied the game 1-1 early in the second period, the Jets (18-19-3) jumped out to a 4-1 lead going into the final period before holding on for a 6-4 victory over the Lightning (19-16-4) at Amalie Arena. It was the Lightning’s first regulation loss in a season-high five-game homestand and it came at a time when the Lightning need points, as their loss coupled with Toronto’s 6-5 win overtime loss to Washington dropped them into a tie for fourth place in the Atlantic Division. What was mystifying about this game was how the Lightning gave up the first goal, yet played an excellent opening period. They followed it up by tying the game on Peca’s goal at the 3:43 mark of the second period when he flew down the right wing and roofed a shot to the far side top corner past Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
And then the wheels came off.
On the following shift, the Lightning got caught flat-footed and the Jets found themselves on an odd-man rush, where Nikolaj Ehlers was awarded a penalty shot on a somewhat controversial hooking penalty on Kucherov that some would argue was not on a complete breakaway. He ended up scoring the go-ahead goal, his 11th of the season, on that penalty shot, giving the Jets a 2-1 lead just 47 seconds after Peca had tied it up. Only 49 seconds later, Winnipeg would extend their lead to 3-1, as they had an extended shift in Tampa Bay’s zone. Blake Wheeler had the puck on the far side boards and fed it into the slot to Mathieu Perreault, who dropped it back to defenseman Jacob Trouba. Trouba jumped up from the blue line and roofed a one-timer past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to put Winnipeg up 3-1. The Jets would continue to swarm throughout the period, generating odd-man chances and completely dominating play in the middle period. A goal by Dustin Byfuglien at the 14:44 mark that squeezed by Vasilevskiy’s glove hand extended that lead to 4-1 going into the second intermission. It was a goal that Vasilevskiy, who finished with five goals on 33 shots allowed, would like to have back. Afterwards, Tampa Bay knew a disastrous second period had cost them.
“It was men among boys after the first period,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper after the game. “It wasn’t the penalty shot, we just deflated after our goal, which was a little bit surprising. We had great jump in the first period. Unfortunately, we don’t score on those early power plays but we had phenomenal chances. Give their goalie credit, he made a bunch of big saves. We were down one, not a big deal at all. I know we’ve been down a lot at home early, we were tonight, but we didn’t deserve to be. Clearly Coach Maurice’s speech was a lot better after the first period than mine because his team came out to play and we didn’t.”
A tightly officiated first period saw a parade to the penalty box for both teams, as the Lightning had saw an early power play chance nullified just seconds after it began when an Ondrej Palat turnover led to Victor Hedman taking a tripping penalty in order to prevent a breakaway. Soon after, a slashing penalty on Patrik Laine gave the Lightning an extended 4-on-3 advantage, but were unable to capitalize despite some good chances for both Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin. Just over six minutes into the game, the Lightning held an 8-0 shot advantage, but Hellebuyck, who finished with 32 saves on 36 shots, was up to the task. At the 6:59 mark, Palat went off hooking, and it didn’t take long for the Jets to pounce on the power play. A shot from Laine from the left circle was redirected in front by Mark Scheifele past Vasilevskiy for his 16th goal, giving the Jets a 1-0 lead on their first shot on goal of the game at the 7:25 mark.
With 9:02 left in the period, the Jets were whistled for delay of game, giving the Lightning a power play. Unfortunately for the Bolts, a turnover led to a Joel Armia breakaway. Palat took a hooking penalty to stop the chance, ending the power play just 14 seconds after it started. The Lightning had a few more solid looks at the net as Drouin dished the puck to Matthew Peca on a 2-on-1, only to have Peca’s shot attempt disrupted. The fourth line of Michael Bournival, JT Brown, and Adam Erne, who was playing in his first NHL game after being called up from Syracuse of the AHL, had a couple of excellent late scoring chances, but were unable to finish them off. Tampa Bay dominated play and had a 17-6 advantage in shots on goal at the intermission despite trailing, with both teams combining for seven minor penalties in the period.
Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, who was playing in his first game back after missing 15 games with a lower body injury, also lamented his team’s play in the second period as well.
“I was really happy with our first. I thought we were a little unfortunate to come out of that period 1-0,” said Callahan. “Our second wasn’t anywhere good enough. In the first six minutes we find ourselves down. Why that doesn’t translate from the first to the second, I don’t know. But that first 10 minutes of the second, we pretty much lose the game right there, so it wasn’t good enough in that second period.
Winnipeg would go on to outshoot the Lightning 28-19 over the final 40 minutes of the game, but Tampa Bay would give themselves some hope early in the third period, when Kucherov found Tyler Johnson, who led a 2-on-1 with Palat. Johnson fed Palat with the puck, and he one-timed it past Hellbuyck to cut the Jets’ lead to 4-2 at the 3:26 mark for his seventh goal of the season. It would be the first of two assists for Johnson. However, that goal didn’t seem to give the Lightning much momentum, as Winnipeg continued to press the issue. Vasilevskiy made several tremendous saves in the third period to keep the Bolts int the game, including a chance by Shawn Matthias, who was stopped despite being all alone in front. A 2-on-1 with Matthias and Armia was thwarted just moments later. Erne nearly cut the deficit to 4-3, but his shot from the left circle was denied by Hellebuyck.
With 10:32 remaining in the third, Ehlers notched his second goal of the night when he skated down the right wing on a rush and with no option left but to shoot it, cut to the slot and rifled a shot past Vasilevskiy to give the Jets what appeared to be a comfortable 5-2 lead. However, a pair of late third period power play goals by Kucherov, his 14th and 15th of the season, gave the Lightning life and trimmed the deficit to 5-4. Tampa Bay had already pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra skater and had a couple of more looks from Kucherov and Johnson, but the puck bounced over their sticks as they looked for the tying goal. Laine would tack on an empty net goal with 1:23 left to provide the final 6-4 margin.
Tampa Bay will complete their five-game homestand on Thursday night when they host the Nashville Predators. Puck drops at 7:30 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Nikolaj Ehlers – Finished with two goals, his 11th and 12th of the year, and tallied an assist. His second period goal on a penalty shot gave the Jets a crucial 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Finished a plus-3.
2nd Star: Jacob Trouba – His goal in the second period, which came just 49 seconds after Ehlers’ penalty shot tally, put the Jets up 3-1 and propelled them to a dominant second period performance that was the difference. He also had an assist and was a plus-1 in 25:28 of ice time.
3rd Star: Nikita Kucherov – Scored a pair of late power play goals and added an assist in a valiant third period comeback effort that fell short. Finished with a game-high seven shots on goal.
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