Over the course of the last couple of months, the Tampa Bay Lightning (24-24-6) had failed to get timely goals when they needed them or timely saves from their goaltenders when needed. As a result, they had failed to win consecutive games since before Christmas. On Tuesday night, the Lightning reversed the narrative and found themselves on the right side of the scoreboard for the second straight game.
Ben Bishop made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season, Nikita Kucherov tallied a pair of goals, while Jonathan Drouin, Gabriel Dumont, and Braydon Coburn also found the back of the net in a dominant 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings (27-23-4) at Amalie Arena. The win marked the Lightning’s first back-to-back victories since beating the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues on December 20 and 22. Drouin also chipped in an assist while Vlad Namestnikov earned a pair of assists.
The victory was a bit of a throwback to last season, when the Lightning were able to cover up defensive deficiencies with great goaltending, which in turn allowed their skilled players to come through with some timely scoring. Los Angeles came out flying during the opening period, as they outshot the Bolts 19-6 yet fond themselves down 1-0 thanks to Drouin finding the back of the net for the 16th time at the 7:46 mark. Drouin gathered the puck at center ice during a 4-on-4 and carried the puck through the neutral zone before flying into the Kings’ zone. Drouin got around LA forward Tyler Toffoli, who was back on defense, and then roofed a wrist shot from a sharp angle past goalie Peter Budaj to give Tampa Bay the advantage with an unassisted goal. Budaj would finish with 16 saves on 21 shots against. The goal also marked the first time that the Lightning had scored while playing at 4-on-4 this season. They had allowed three 4-on-4 goals heading into this game. Bishop had a bit of a misadventure late in the period, turning the puck over to Trevor Lewis when he came out to handle it, only to recover in time to make the save.
The Lightning would only give up nine shots through the final two periods, and would build on their lead when Andrej Sustr worked the puck from behind his own net to Namestnikov in the defensive zone. Namestnikov then caught the Kings sleeping when he hit Kucherov with a long stretch pass to spring him for a breakaway, where he would score his 20th goal of the season at the 6:55 mark. Kucherov has now topped the 20-goal mark for the second straight season. Dumont would score his first goal in a Lightning uniform and just the second of his NHL career when he finished off a rush by one-timing JT Brown’s pass out of the reach of Budaj to put Tampa Bay up 3-0 at 11:02. It was Dumont’s first goal since the 2012-13 season when he was with the Montreal Canadiens.
Kucherov would extend the Lightning’s lead to 4-0 with 1:42 remaining in the second period when he finished off a 2-on-1 by working a give-and-go with Namestnikov. It was Namestnikov’s second helper of the night, while Luke Witkowski got the secondary assist. Even Braydon Coburn got in on the scoring by finishing things off at the 6:52 mark. Joel Vermin got the puck away from a board battle along the near wall and got it to Drouin at the point. Drouin flung the puck on net, forcing Budaj to make the save. Coburn drove to the net and showed soft hands by roofing a backhander top shelf from in close for his second goal of the season to put the exclamation point on this win.
The Lightning would finish their four-game homestand with a 2-2-0 record. They’ll return to action Friday night when they travel to Minnesota to take on the Western Conference-leading Wild for an 8 pm puck drop.
NOTES: This game was the second straight contest that forward Ondrej Palat missed due to a lower body injury….Alex Killorn was a surprise late scratch due to an undisclosed injury despite taking warmups. Witkowski took his spot in the lineup as the Lightning went with seven defensemen….Coming into this season, Drouin had eight career regular season goals. He has now doubled that total with 28 games remaining in the season.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Ben Bishop – Made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season, 19 of them in the first period. If he doesn’t come through early on, it might have been a different game tonight.
2nd Star: Nikita Kucherov – Tallied two goals, his 20th and 21st of the season, he has now reached the 20-goal mark for the third consecutive season.
3rd Star: Vlad Namestnikov – Had the primary assist on each of Kucherov’s goals and also had a few solid scoring chances while winning 67% of his faceoffs.
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