AFTER THE DUST SETTLES : LIGHTNING : MARCH 12
By Leo Haggerty
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE POINTS
Ok, readers, I came out three weeks ago that Tampa Bay was going to make the playoffs. Most of you scoffed at that prediction. But, as Toby Keith said, “How do you like me now?”
After a 3-game home stand, that produced five out of a possible six points, the Bolts are just three points behind the Toronto Maple Leaps for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The big part of this equation is that Tampa Bay is riding one of the hottest goaltenders in the National Hockey League.
In his last 10 games, Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been on fire. The Russian-born netminder is 7-1-2 and is really starting to hit his stride right when the Bolts need him. Plus, he’s getting people to say, with no disrespect to big #30, “Ben who?” and that’s exactly what the Tampa Bay top brass were hoping would occur.
The home stand didn’t start out on the good foot with a 1-0 overtime loss on Monday to the Rangers. New York took advantage of a late Lightning line change and D Ryan Mcdonagh intercepted a centering pass to no one. He sent C Mika Zibanejad on his way in alone on Lightning net minder Vasilevskiy and he scored the only goal of the game at the 3:56 mark of extra time.
Both goalies, New York’s Antti Raanta and Tampa Bay’s Vasilevskiy, were outstanding. #32 had 38 saves for the visitors while #88 had 33 for the home team. The silver lining was that the Bolts salvaged a point and, at this point of the season, that’s huge.
The next games, against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday and then a Saturday affair with the in-state rival Florida Panthers, had a much better outcome for the Lightning. Against the Wild, the Bolts jumped out to a 3-0 lead and cruised to a 4-1 victory. W Nikita Kucherov continued his hot play when it comes to goals (2) and assists (1) with a three point night. Defensemen Victor Hedmon and Andrej Sustr lit the lamp as well for the Bolts. Again, Vasilevskiy was superb in net making 32 saves but the win didn’t come without its consequences.
Hopefully, this wasn’t a Pyrrhic victory for Tampa Bay. Forwards Tyler Johnson and Vladislav Namestnikov along with Cedric Paquette all left the game with lower body injuries with the extent of those ailments not yet diagnosed.
Saturday, Tampa Bay was in a high stakes battle with Florida. With the score knotted at 2 apiece late in the third period, W Ondrej Palat score what proved to be the winner with 2:23 left in regulation. Kucherov and C Yanni Gourde, who scored his first goal with the Bolts, had the other Lightning scores and Vasilevskiy posted another 32 save performance.
Now the Bolts head out for a quick back-to-back road trip sporting a 10-2-3 record in their last 15 games. They stop at Madison Square Garden for a date with the Rangers Monday then north of the border for a Tuesday skirmish with the Ottowa Senators.
Two points are a must. Anything over that is icing on the cake.
Remember, ladies and gentlemen, like Jack Webb said on Dragnet (again I’m dating myself), “Just the facts.” With the Lightning, it’s just the points and, with 23 points in their last 15 games, the team is getting that message loud and clear.