AFTER THE DUST SETTLES : LIGHTNING : MARCH 7
By Leo Haggerty
Folks, it’s a simple matter of mathematics. To make the playoffs, I figure Tampa Bay needs to get one point for every road game and 1.5 points for every home game.
That’s exactly what the Lightning did on a quick two-game road trip to Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Bolts lost the first game 5-2 to the Penguins but go a two point victory with a 2-1 shootout triumph against the Sabres. Let’s explore how that happened.
Pens D Mark Streit scored the goal ahead goal early in the third period to break a 2-2 tie. Pittsburgh tacked on two late goals as the Penguins posted a 5-2 triumph over the Lightning.
Yes, this is the same player that Tampa Bay received in the Valtteri Filppula trade with Philly. Before he even got to suit up for the Lightning, Streit was moved to Pittsburgh. Talk about bad Bolts karma, right?
After a scoreless first period, the Lightning started the scoring in the second with Adam Erne notching his first marker of the season. Pittsburgh answered that goal with two goals by Evgeni Malkin, who was participating in his 700th National Hockey League game, to give the Pens a 2-1 lead at the second intermission.
Tampa Bay tied it quickly when Nikita Kucherov lit the lamp early in the third period. About 90 seconds later, Streit put the Penguins up for good scoring on newly acquired goalie Peter Budaj who stopped 30 shots.
The Pens added another couple of goals late in the third period. Justin Schultz had a goal and Tom Kuhnhackl popped in an empty netter to finish off the scoring.
Pittsburgh goal Matt Murray finished with 27 saves and the Pens swept the season series from the Bolts. Even worse, Tampa Bay remained treading water in the Atlantic Division. That’s why the next game in Buffalo was crucial.
SOMETIMES, IT’S BETTER TO BE LUCKY THAN GOOD
In the second of the road back-to-back contests, thankfully the Bolts had a short flight from Pittsburgh to Buffalo. There Tampa Bay found themselves in a dogfight with the Sabres.
Buffalo drew first blood with only 12 ticks left in the first period. Ryan O’Reilly (15th) put the puck past Lightning net minder Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
The Bolts wasted little time in knotting the score at ones. Tyler Johnson (19th), on a perfect setup from Victor Hedman and Kucherov, rerouted the puck into a wide open net. #88 for the Lightning and Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner were perfect the rest of the way and that’s how the game ended in regulation.
With neither team scoring in the overtime period, the Sabres and Bolts went to the Shootout at the KeyBank Center. That’s when the Lightning went to work.
With a Brayden Point goal sandwiched around two saves by Vasilevskiy on Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, that set the stage for one of the strangest events of the year.
Kucherov, with a chance to give the Bolts a much needed two point victory, skated down the right wing. As he approached Lehner, #86 directed the puck toward the goal and, in an instant, passed his stick over the puck to try and influence the Sabres goalie.
The ruse worked. Lehner went for the fake and the puck rolled between his legs for the game clinching goal.
The question being asked was that truly what happened or did Kucherov fan on his attempt to redirect the puck? I think he will say that that whole scenario was planned and I don’t think anyone is doubting his word.
Me, like I said in the title of the article, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. The bottom line is it’s not how but how many. No matter how you look at this, it’s two points for the Bolts and they’ll take them.