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Tyler Johnson’s hat trick helps Lightning grind out win against Carolina

On the heels of a grueling five-game road trip that saw them obtain seven out of 10 points, the Tampa Bay Lightning returned home to take on a Carolina Hurricanes team that always gives the Lightning problems. For the second game in a row, the Lightning’s league-best power play didn’t receive a single opportunity with an extra man.

But who needs power plays when you’ve got Tyler Johnson, right?

Johnson scored the third regular season hat trick of his career, Brayden Point had three assists, while Victor Hedman and Jake Dotchin each scored as the Lightning (31-9-3) outlasted the Hurricanes (19-15-8) by a 5-4 score at Amalie Arena. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves for his 16th victory on home ice and 27th overall. Tampa Bay is now 16-2-1 in its last 19 games against Carolina, while also notching their seventh straight win on home ice against the Canes. Brock McGinn, Sebastian Aho, Justin Faulk, and Elias Lindholm scored for Carolina, who got 29 saves from Cam Ward and lost their second straight game.

An up-and-down opening period for the Lightning saw them rally from a pair of deficits to keep the game tied heading into the first intermission.

Following a tripping penalty on Ryan Callahan, McGinn converted on the ensuing power play to put Carolina up 1-0. Jaccob Slavin got the puck to Justin Williams in the right circle, who promptly centered it to McGinn for the easy tap-in and a 1-0 lead at the 3:23 mark.

Tampa Bay turned the tide in their favor with a few high-quality chances turned aside by Ward. Most notable of those was a save on Cedric Paquette, who powered to the net, only to see his shot denied by Ward’s right pad. However, the Lightning’s sloppiness with the puck led to turnovers and some excellent chances for the Hurricanes. The Lighting picked up the equalizer when Hedman collected a pass from Nikita Kucherov and zipped a shot that beat Ward glove side for his 6th goal of the season at 9:58.

A bad turnover led to the Canes regaining the lead, but the Bolts fought back to knot the game up again.

A Yanni Gourde turnover in the Lightning zone led to a grade-A chance for McGinn, who was unable to finish off the play. However, moments later, Carolina regained the lead following another terrible turnover by the Bolts in their own end. Point couldn’t handle a Gourde pass, and the puck bounced to Aho. Aho’s shot eluded Vasilevskiy, putting the Hurricanes up 2-1 at the 12:10 mark with an unassisted goal, his 14th of the season.

Despite their sloppiness with the puck, the Lightning collected themselves and began generating shots and keeping up the pressure on Carolina. They were rewarded when Johnson redirected an Anton Stralman shot past Ward for his 14th of the season, tying the game 2-2 with 3:34 left on the clock. In all fairness, Johnson did get away with a cross check in front of the net that cleared some space just a couple of seconds before the goal. The Lightning held a 14-8 lead in shots on goal going into the dressing room.

While they spent the opening 20 minutes fighting back, it only took 1:58 for the Bolts to grab their first lead after the intermission.

Johnson continued his torrid pace when he notched his second of the night, putting Tampa Bay up 3-2. A shot by Dotchin shot rang off the post, bounced to Johnson, whose rebound chance got stopped by Ward. However, Johnson got the puck back again and took another shot as he was falling. The puck bounced off the skate of Carolina’s Justin Faulk and in the net for Johnson’s 15th of the season. Tampa Bay continued to swarm and nearly added to their lead a couple of minutes later as Chris Kunitz just missed a Steven Stamkos pass in front on a 3-on-2. Stamkos later kept the puck on a 2-on-1 with Kucherov, only to see his shot deflected away by Ward. Ward would later come up big when he stopped Point on a partial breakaway.

Unfortunately for the Bolts, their penalty killing let them down again

At the 10:05 mark, Braydon Coburn took a cross checking penalty, and the Hurricanes didn’t take long to make the Lightning pay. Faulk got the puck at the point, and using Lindholm as a screen, rifled a shot past Vasilevskiy and tied the game 3-3 at 10:36. The Lightning’s penalty kill, which entered the game ranked 25th at home and tied for 18th overall, allowed their second power play marker of the night.

Early in the third period, the Lightning appeared to have taken the lead.

However, a coach’s challenge would rear its ugly head. At the 2:04 mark, Chris Kunitz appeared to have given the Bolts a 4-3 lead when he knocked home a rebound off a shot from Kucherov. Carolina coach Bill Peters challenged the play believing that it was offsides. Although the play didn’t appear to be conclusively offsides, the officials reversed the call and stated that Kunitz was in the zone before the puck, nullifying the goal. What appeared to be a 4-3 Lightning lead turned back into a 3-3 tie, and the home crowd intensely voiced their displeasure. On the ensuing shift, Stamkos found himself on a breakaway, but he lost an edge and fell as he was deking, unable to take a quality shot.

The Lightning continued to press the issue, and finally got that go-ahead goal back thanks to Dotchin.

At the 9:27 mark, Point skated towards the right wing and then dropped the puck back to Dotchin, who moved up into the left circle and beat Ward with a shot to the far-side top corner past his glove. Just like that, Tampa Bay owned a 4-3 lead on Dotchin’s third of the season.

Carolina nearly tied it up a few minutes later when Aho found Josh Jooris cutting the net all alone with a great setup. Unfortunately for Carolina, Vasilevskiy was up to the task. The Lightning netminder didn’t have his sharpest game of the season, but found his stride in the third period. A close, tight-checking game set the stage for Johnson’s third goal of the night. And it was nothing short of spectacular:

Johnson beat Canes defenseman Noah Hanifin to the puck, outmuscled him, and powered to the front of the Carolina net. His initial shot was stopped by Ward, but he kept with the puck and fired it home, scoring his 16th goal of the year. The Lightning owned a 5-3 lead with 5:06 remaining and the Amalie Arena crowd went berserk. Johnson’s goal would hold up as the game-winner due to Carolina getting a late goal from Lindholm to round out the final score.

The Lightning will continue their three-game homestand on Thursday night when they host Calgary at 7:30 pm.

Game Notes

-Johnson’s hat trick is the third one he’s accomplished in the regular season in his career. The previous two were on January 25, 2014 in a 5-2 win over Colorado and December 23, 2014 in a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh. Both of those hat tricks were also at Amalie Arena. He also tallied a hat trick in Game 2 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.

-Johnson’s 12 goals since December 1 are the most on the Lightning. He has notched points in 17 of the last 20 games he’s played in (12 goals, 13 assists in that time).

-Hedman, Stralman, and Dotchin combined for five points tonight (2 goals, 3 assists). Tampa Bay’s defensemen have combined for 107 points (most in the NHL) and 30 goals (tied with Nashville for first).

-Kucherov’s assist on the Hedman goal made him the first player in the NHL to hit 60 points this season. He is the second fastest player to reach 60 points in a season, having accomplished the feat in 43 games. Vinny Lecavalier holds the franchise record for fastest player to reach 60 points, having done it in 41 games in 2007-08.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Tyler Johnson – Third career regular season hat trick of his NHL career.

2nd Star: Brayden Point – Three assists

3rd Star: Jake Dotchin – One goal and one assist

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