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Winning a Big Test against Vegas

Photo credit: Alex Walworth Scrum Sports

The reigning Stanley Cup champions and best team in the NHL this season brought their game to Amalie Arena to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Vegas Golden Knights come to the Lightning’s barn to exude the dominance over the league they have enjoyed this season. They have the most points in the league and expect to win virtually every game on their schedule. There are a few players on the Lightning roster who remember that kind of dominance. It just isn’t happening for them this season. We’ve seen some incredible play from the Bolts on some games. We have also witnessed some clunkers. After the loss in Calgary last weekend, I wrote that Jekyll and Hyde best describes this season’s Lightning performance so far. So, which team shows up tonight? The team that handily beat St. Louis two nights ago or the team that dug a hole they couldn’t dig out of against Calgary? 

Andrei Vasilevskiy gets the nod between the pipes for the Lightning and Jiri Patera is minding the net  for the Golden Knights. Patera is in the lineup because Aiden Hill is out with an injury. Speaking of injury, Mikhail Sergachev won’t play tonight and is officially day to day after taking a shot off the back of his skate Tuesday. Hayden Fleury gets the start in his absence. Fleury had a fantastic game against St. Louis with a goal and assist. 

Opening Period

In the first few minutes of the game, the Lightning were playing with the same kind of intensity that we saw Tuesday against St. Louis. They were forechecking the hell out of the Golden Knights and saw a lot of offensive zone time. While they got some good looks on Patera, they couldn’t get one past him. 

After they withstood the initial push by Tampa, Vegas began flying on the ice. Then they began building up some offensive zone time for themselves. Just past the halfway point of the period, the visitors struck first. Former Lightning, Jonathan Marchessault opened the game’s scoring. The puck bounced his way as Marchessault was left all alone in front of Vasilevskiy. 

After going down by that goal, the Lightning still showed they had a spark but the team defense of the Golden Knights started to clamp down a bit. Entries into their zone were challenged. Any thoughts of cycling the puck by the Lightning if they did get the puck in Vegas’ zone were taken away. On the chance that the Lightning actually got off a shot, Patera was in the best posititon to stop the puck. 

About five minutes after Marchessault’s goal, Ivan Barbeshev took a pass from Mark Stone and wristed in the Golden Knight’s second goal. Another defensive lapse for Tampa as Barbashev, like Marchessault on the previous goal, was all alone to bury the biscuit. The period ended with Vegas up 2-0 though the shot differential was only one as Tampa won that battle 11-9.

Second Period Blues?

During the recent five game road trip, the Bolts were outscored in the second period, 12-0. After coming home to play five of their next six games at Amalie, they outscored St. Louis Tuesday in the second 2-0. So, which second period team will we see tonight? If Vegas scores first in this period, that’ll be a three goal lead and perhaps insurmountable against this team. If the Lightning scores first, it’ll cut the Golden Knight’s lead in half and put the home team one good shot away from tying this up. 

As the period was heading to the halfway point, Victor Hedman blasted a shot from the point. Alex Barre-Boulet tipped the puck past Patera to cut the Vegas lead in half. This goal seemed to light a fire under the Tampa players.

As the Lightning began to turn up the heat on the Golden Knights, the game started to get a little chippy. Barbashev knocked Cirelli on his bum and Brandon Hagel was having none of that. Hagel immediately dropped his gloves and while the fight was a draw, each pugilist got in some respectable shots. Hagel got an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. 

A minute into their power play, Vegas’ Mark Stone tripped Anthony Cirelli and back to even strength though it was 4 on 4. About a half minute later, Mikey Eyssimont and Nick Roy dropped their mitts. This was more a wrestling match than fisticuffs. This was also deemed a draw. Both penalty boxes were beginning to fill up.

Second Period News

The teams were still on a 4 on 4 when Alex Pietrangelo was called for a delay of game penalty. This happened when there was still 45 seconds on the Stone penalty and the Hagel penalty was over. So, for those 45 seconds, the Lightning had a 5 on 3. They wasted little time in taking advantage. Nikita Kucherov blasted a shot past Patera with 2 seconds left on the 5 on 3. Tie game at two and now the Lightning have about 1:15 left on a 5 on 4 power play.

Still on the power play, the Lightning were relentless. Less than a minute after Kucherov’s tying goal, Brayden Point knocked in a rebound off a Kucherov shot to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead.

To add insult to injury, the Lightning were not letting up. On the rare moment in this period when it was actually 5 on 5 hockey, Point scored his second goal of the game and his 500th career point to put the Lightning up 4-2. Clearly, we are seeing the home version of the Lightning second period performance. Four goals for and none against.

Closing Time 

What a great period for the Lightning who come into the third period completely in control of this game. Vegas didn’t get to the top of the league with smoke and mirrors. This is a damn good team. In the first half of the third period, they showed just that. They got a power play goal from Marchessault, his second of the game to make it 4-3 Lightning. Then a few minutes later Paul Cotter snapped a goal past a screened Vasilevskiy to tie the game at four. So, it’s a brand new game, tied at four. Half of the period left and both teams fighting for the two points that come with a win. 

Back and forth they went. Neither team was giving an inch, especially in their zone, Challenging passes as hard as they were challenging shots on goal. As most of the Amalie faithful were settling in for overtime, Point sprinted up the right side and snapped a shot towards Patera. The Vegas goalie got a pad on the puck and it bounced right on the stick of Nick Paul who didn’t hesitate putting the puck past Patera for the go ahead goal. 

Now, there was only 1:13 left in the game. Did Vegas have one more goal in them? If the Golden Knights lose in regulation, it would be the first time all season where they lost two consecutive games in regulation all season. They pulled Patera and got some good looks at Vasilevskiy including a Jack Eichel shot with five seconds left that almost trickled in the net. It was not to be for the visiting team tonight. Lightning win a tough and hard fought game against the best team in the league, 5-4. 

Three Stars

  1. Brayden Point – 2 goals and 1 assist and he tallied his 500th career NHL point. 
  2. Nick Paul – 1 goal and 2 assists. Game Winning Goal. 
  3. Nikita Kucherov – 1 goal and 2 assists. His goal was his 299th career NHL goal

What’s Next 

Saturday night in Washing DC to face the Capitals. Puck drop is at 7 pm.

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