During the first period of their final game before the All-Star break, it looked like the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to score goals in bunches. They ended up hanging on for dear life, and they have Andrei Vasilevskiy to thank for giving them a win.
Vasilevskiy made 30 saves, several of the spectacular variety, as the Lightning (27-18-4) squeaked out a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs (17-22-9) at Amalie Arena, their eighth win in their last 9 games. The win puts them back into a tie with the Detroit Red Wings for the second place in the Atlantic Division with 58 points, giving them a record of 9-2-0 to close out the month of January. Steven Stamkos scored the only goal for the Lightning, who trail the Florida Panthers by five points for first place going into All-Star Weekend. Vasilevskiy won his sixth straight start and earned the second shutout of his NHL career. Jonathan Bernier was spectacular in net for Toronto, stopping 28 out of 29 shots.
Through the first 15 minutes of the opening period of this one, the Lightning had the Maple Leafs on their heels and chasing the game for much of that time. The Bolts took the first 13 shots of the game and went up 1-0 before Toronto registered their first shot on goal of the game 12:25 into the game. Stamkos gave the Lightning the lead at the 4:38 mark of the period during their first power play of the night. Anton Stralman sent a pass over to Stamkos, who was in his office in the left circle, where he wound up and blasted one of his patented one-timers past Bernier for his 21st goal of the season. Stralman and Valtteri Filppula earned the assists. The Lightning were a step ahead of the Leafs for much of the period, peppering Bernier with shot after shot and skating circles around Toronto. Alex Killorn nearly put the Lightning ahead 2-0, but was unable to elevate the puck on a breakaway, leading to Bernier making the save. During the Lightning’s second power play of the period, which began with 2:28 left, the Leafs began to shift momentum their way, earning a trio of solid shorthanded chances, including one by Byron Froese that went off the crossbar following a bad line change by Tampa Bay. The Bolts went into the intermission leading 17-6 in shots and 1-0 in goals. If not for Bernier, this game would’ve gotten ugly in a hurry.
Toronto regrouped and bounced back in the second period, outshooting the Bolts 11-5 in what was a very chippy middle stanza. Early on, the Lightning were still dominating puck possession, but were putting fewer shots on net. Leo Komarov sprung Michael Grabner for a breakaway, but Vasilevskiy was up to the challenge and made the save. Vlad Namestnikov nearly gave the Bolts a 2-0 lead, but as he cut to the front of the net, Bernier poked the puck away. Things got chippy between the two teams when Toronto’s Frank Corrado was called for interference after elbowing the Bolts’ Ondrej Palat in the head, knocking him to the ice and prompting Nikita Nesterov to put him in a headlock. Unfortunately for the Lightning, they couldn’t get anything going on the power play, which became a recurring theme during the second period. Toronto got a power play when Nikita Kucherov was called for embellishment on a pretty questionable call, and Vasilevskiy was forced to make a few quality saves, including one on a deflection by Jake Gardiner off a shot/pass to the slot from Nazem Kadri. After that penalty was over, Brian Boyle and Kadri each got called for slashing and high-sticking, respectively, putting both teams at 4-on-4. The game got more physical, as Toronto was trying to inflict physical punishment to wear them down. During the 4-on-4, the Lighting only got one shot on goal despite having possession in the Leafs’ zone for much of that time. Each team traded power plays the rest of the period, with Filppula getting a couple of great chances, one of them a backhand shot that was stopped by Bernier on the power play and one that went wide on a 2-on-1 rush while shorthanded. Tyler Johnson then got a shorthanded breakaway and was hooked around his hands late in the period, but no penalty or penalty shot was called. Tampa Bay kept a 1-0 lead going into the third period, but only had a 22-17 edge in shots. The first period belonged to Bernier, but in the second period, it was Vasilevskiy’s turn to shine. And he was just getting warmed up.
However, the Leafs nearly tied it up just two minutes in when Morgan Reilly fired a shot off the crossbar. With 14:50 left in the game, Johnson took a high-sticking penalty and Vasilevskiy went to work. Kadri fired a shot on net from the left circle that Vasilevskiy managed to stop despite being screened by Komarov. Moments later, Vasilevskiy made the save of the night on Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf was left all alone in front of the net, and he one-time a shot from point blank range that Vasilevskiy turned aside, keeping the Leafs off the scoreboard and killing the penalty. The Lightning’s young netminder then made another remarkable save on Phaneuf, sliding across the crease to thwart a one-timer from the Leafs’ captain, who had crept closer to the net. The Lightning picked up another power play, but only had one decent chance when Killorn was denied by Bernier after a toe drag move. After getting out of the penalty box, Reilly found himself on a partial breakaway as the puck bounced over Stralman’s stick. However, Vasilevskiy shut the door on that opportunity. Johnson and Victor Hedman then had excellent opportunities for the Bolts, but Johnson had a pass from Killorn bounce off his stick, while Hedman was denied by Bernier after he joined the rush and fired a wide-open shot from the slot. Shawn Matthias then had a shot from the right circle knocked away by Vasilevskiy, while JT Brown was unable to put a shot past Bernier after doing some excellent work behind the net. Tyler Bozak and Kadri had late chances for Toronto, with Kadri’s occurring after they had pulled Bernier for an extra skater. However, time ran out on the Leafs and Tampa Bay held on for the victory despite being outshot 13-7 in the final period and 30-29 for the game, giving them a much-needed win going into the All-Star break.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Made 30 saves for his sixth straight victory and his second career shutout. Made 24 saves over the final two periods, preserving the win after the Lightning were unable to sustain their strong start in the first period.
2nd Star: Jonathan Bernier – Toronto’s goalie made 28 saves and was sensational in the opening period when he stopped 16 shots, keeping the Maple Leafs in the game and preventing it from getting out of hand in the opening 20 minutes.
3rd Star: Steven Stamkos – The Lightning captain scored the only goal of the game early in the first period, firing his 21st of the season past Bernier on a one-timer from the left circle.
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