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Vigilant Vasilevskiy leads Bolts to promised land in Montreal

Wayne Masut | The Scrum Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens have had similar, rather inconsistent, seasons. Ahead of Thursday’s matchup, however, Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Bolts had found some stability in their game. They’d won four in a row, and were looking to keep the longest winning streak of their season alive.

Clearly, Tampa Bay would be looking for a quicker start than last time the Atlantic Division foes met. Montreal jumped out to a 17-0 shot advantage and led 2-0. The Lightning had won 12 straight against the Atlantic entering the game, and a quick start would be just one key ingredient in a victory. Vasilevskiy would be another one. His play on New Year’s Eve didn’t necessarily lead the Lightning to the win, but the night would have been plenty easier had he played his best hockey.

Dominant opening shift

Early on, the Bolts were hungry. Their first shift of the game was spent entirely in the Montreal end, and they were rewarded. Anthony Cirelli got a piece of an Erik Cernak blast, and he wouldn’t be the only one.  Steven Stamkos redirected it a second time and Carey Price didn’t stand a chance.

Vasilevskiy joins the fun

Then, Vasilevskiy began to take over this game. He made some great stops as Montreal began to gain an edge on the shot clock. He was excellent in the first for the Lightning, but his best was yet to come.

Penalty problem

Though Tampa Bay weren’t scored on either of their times shorthanded, it’s still not a promising start to 2020 to take multiple minors in your first twenty minutes of action. Not to mention, the Lightning may as well have been scored on the second time around. Jeff Petry ripped one home right as Victor Hedman left the box. The goal was technically full strength, but it came just seconds after the power play expired.

A gift

Later in the frame, Carey Price had a gaffe behind the Montreal net and gave the puck away to Brayden Point. He found Nikita Kucherov, who found the empty net. It was an easy tap in goal, to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead after one.

Mighty Maroon

In the closing moments of the period, Patrick Maroon made his presence felt physically. First, he got in a shoving match with Max Domi and took him off the ice for two minutes. Then, on his next shift, he dropped the gloves for real with Dale Weise. Not only did he take one of Montreal’s prime scorers off the ice, Maroon also stood up for himself and got the bench going against Weise.

Quiet early second

For a good portion of the second, neither team were able to create many quality looks. The Bolts got their best chance on a sequence involving Tyler Johnson and Pat Maroon. Johnson slid one down low to Maroon, who backhanded it just wide.  On the Montreal side of things, Domi unleashed a Howitzer just over the cage, after having his original shot blocked.

Vasilevskiy shuts the door

Vasilevskiy had a fabulous second period. He was one of the main reasons the Bolts were able to hold the Habs off the board once the frame started to heat up. Most of the good looks in the second belonged to the Canadiens. Vasilevskiy turned aside all fourteen shots that came his way. Montreal carried a 26-16 shot advantage into the third period, but it was the Lightning with a 2-1 lead.

More Vasilevskiy

In the third, Vasilevskiy continued his stellar play. Montreal had some good zone time, and plenty of great scoring chances. They widened their lead on the shot board to 31-20 in the early goings.

Clutch kill

As mentioned, penalties were a problem early in the game for the Bolts. Then, the game underwent a long stretch with no penalty calls. Finally, Ondrej Palat broke the ice with a tripping minor. Hedman and Ben Chiarot had left the ice with matching minors, so the Habs had a brief 4-on-3, then standard, power play.

Just when the Lightning needed it, their penalty kill came through. It was an excellent kill for the Bolts, both defensively, and with Vasilevskiy shutting the door.

Riding it out

The Lightning played a perfect road game in the third period, limiting chances very effectively. Vasilevskiy continued to stand tall, and Tampa Bay earned their fifth straight win. It was their thirteenth against the Atlantic Division, the longest streak against the division since 1993-’94.

Our three stars of the game

  1. Andrei Vasilevskiy: 38 saves: Vasilevskiy had simply an incredible evening. He tracked the puck phenomenally, and didn’t let in a single bad goal.
  2. Mikhail Sergachev: Sergachev was excellent defensively in this one. He played every situation perfectly, and was in great position all night.
  3. Patrick Maroon: Maroon was a spark plug for the Bolts with his physical play. His confrontation with Domi and fight with Weise proved the Lightning wouldn’t be pushed around in this hockey game.

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