Coming off a successful four-game road trip, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked to keep rolling in their return home. First up: the always tough Vegas Golden Knights.
The Lightning have not fared well in recent years against the league’s newest team. With a record of 1-2-1, it hasn’t seemed to matter which goalie got the start. These games featured more big hits and injuries than goals scored.
Last season, a hit by Ryan Reaves in the first meeting between the two teams sent Victor Hedman flying into the boards head-first. That caused Hedman to miss time and, though unconfirmed, might have contributed to his overall struggles defensively.
In a role reversal of sorts, Tuesday night’s game featured five goals and six minor penalties. Another new development was Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the best of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Lethargic start gets Vasilevskiy into the Game
After being out west for nearly a week, the Lightning were flat to start this game. The Golden Knights took an early lead in shots on goal and almost cashed in. With Vasilevskiy expecting a pass, Max Pacioretty barely missed scoring his 22nd of the season into the empty left side of the net.
Tyler Johnson then committed a turnover, giving Vegas another glorious chance to take the early lead. Thankfully, the Bolts starting netminder was up to the task, deflecting the puck out of harms way.
Injury bug bites
While the Bolts continued to stumble their way through things, a seemingly innocent play went wrong. A battle along the boards saw defenseman Jan Rutta trip over his own feet. His leg was then landed on by the Golden Knights Nicolas Roy, causing it to buckle. Teammates and the training staff helped him to the bench and back to the room for further evaluation.
Head coach Jon Cooper wasn’t optimistic after the game, saying Rutta’s injury is not considered day-to-day. It’s expected to be much longer.
Bolts end slumber, get on board first
Ten minutes into the opening frame, the Lightning began to show signs of life. Rookies Mitchell Stephens and Carter Verhaeghe began buzzing around the net, with each receiving an opportunity to score.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the puck past Fleury. Their persistence set the tone for other lines though, with Brayden Point scoring to give Tampa Bay the 1-0 lead.
Defensive lapses continue for the Lightning
Once the Lightning took the lead, they stopped pressuring the Golden Knights. A neutral zone turnover led to a partial breakaway by Alex Tuch. Vasilevskiy made the save and covered the puck to prevent a rebound. Brayden McNabb’s shot off the ensuing faceoff hit the post and stayed out.
Vegas kept coming in waves though, ultimately breaking through. William Carrier’s shot from downtown handcuffed the Bolts netminder to tie the game at one.
Cirelli line comes through again
Just before the first intermission, the Lightning were presented with a golden opportunity to retake the lead. They took full advantage, as a faceoff win by Ondrej Palat deflected off of Anthony Cirelli and then Johnson before entering the net. That gave Tampa Bay a slim 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Lightning plagued by penalties
The middle frame started out good, with numerous chances for the Point line. They couldn’t cash in, however, and the penalty parade began.
Ryan McDonagh was assessed the first penalty of the game for tripping Jonathan Marchessault. The penalty kill and Vasilevskiy stood tall to deny the Golden Knights.
Later in the period, McDonagh found himself in the sin bin again. The Bolts goaltender made numerous saves before Alex Killorn nearly hit Cirelli with a shorthanded breakaway chance. That killed off the remaining time.
Not long after, Steven Stamkos was sent off for tripping Marchessault. Early in the kill, Killorn found himself with a partial breakaway that drew a penalty on Vegas. The two teams played 4-on-4 for about a minute before the Lightning got their first crack with the man-advantage. The power play did nothing but turn the puck over, giving Mark Stone a shorthanded bid that Vasilevskiy made the save on.
Golden Knights tie the game
Entering the final 20 minutes, the Lightning needed to stay in their structure and lock down the two points. They got the win, but a defensive lapse allowed Vegas to tie the game at two early in the period.
Paul Stastny parked himself beside Vasilevskiy, tipping a Marchessault shot past the Bolts goaltender four minutes in.
Captain Clutch delivers for the Lightning
After Vegas scored to tie things, the Lightning came back with a vengeance. The rookie line set the tone, with Verhaeghe setting up Yanni Gourde who was denied by Fleury.
Shortly thereafter, Nikita Kucherov won a puck battle. He passed to Point whose shot was tipped by Stamkos past Fleury for the 3-2 lead.
Vasilevskiy shuts the door
Once the Lightning took the lead, Vasilevskiy made sure it wasn’t relinquished. He made saves on Stone, Theodore, McNabb and Pacioretty to hold off the Golden Knights.
Killorn puts the icing on the cake
With Fleury pulled for the extra attacker and time winding down, Erik Cernak caused a Vegas turnover. He chipped the puck out of the zone to alleviate the pressure. Fresh off the bench, Killorn raced after the loose puck and fired it into the empty net to seal the Bolts 4-2 win.
Our Three Stars of the Game
- Andrei Vasilevskiy: 27 saves on 29 shots. Tied Nikolai Khabibulin’s franchise record of 16 consecutive games with at least one point (14-0-2).
- Steven Stamkos: Game-winning goal.
- Alex Killorn: A beast on the penalty kill and contributed the empty net goal that sealed the win.
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