By Leo Haggerty

OK, here’s the plan.  Being that I cannot clone myself, making every Bucs and Bulls and Lightning home contest is an impossibility.  So, with that being said, I am going to try and attend at least one game during every home stand.

At the end of each home stand, I’ll post a review of what transpired.  Same after the road trips.

The Tampa Bay Lightning began the 2018-19 National Hockey League campaign with a five-game home stand.  The NHL schedule makers did them a big favor with that right out of the gate.

In the opener, G Andrei Vasilevskiy was the whole story as the Bolts edged their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers, 2-1 in a shootout.  #88 turned away 42 shots and made C Anthony Cirelli’s goal stand up to get Tampa Bay to overtime.

In the second game of the home stand, the Lightning were nursing a 1-0 in the third period when the roof fell in.  Vancouver exploded with four goals late in the final stanza to beat the Bolts 4-1.  Vasilevskiy only faced 28 shots but four of them ended up in the net while C Brayden Point lit the lamp for the only Bolts marker.

In the third tilt, it was déjà vu but with the karma favoring the Lightning.  Leading going into the third period, the Bolts erupted for four goals of their own to best the Columbus Blue Jackets 8-2.  Tampa Bay notched four power play goals, three of them in the final stanza, and were led by a two-goal, three-point performance by Point.

In the fourth game, against the 4-1-1 Carolina Hurricane and the one I was able to attend in person, both teams started slowly.  Carolina drew first blood at 10:25 when LW Michael Ferland (4) put the biscuit in the basket behind Bolts G Louis Domingue.  Tampa Bay C Tyler Johnson (1) answered at 12:42 to knot the score at one apiece and it stayed that way going to the first intermission.

The Bolts took their first lead at 6:07 of the second period when Johnson (2) split the defense and put the puck top shelf over Hurricane G Petr Mrazek.  Carolina countered with a three-on-one rush that led to the tying goal by C Martin Necas at 12:48 of the middle period to square the match at two all.

Tampa Bay recaptured the lead at 7:02 of the final stanza on a power play goal by C Yanni Gourde (2).  The Bolts sealed the deal at 18:04 when Johnson (3) recorded a hat trick, which was the fourth of his career, for a 4-2 Lightning victory.

After the Johnson hat trick, Domingue was a big part of the Bolts victory.  #70 stopped 38 of 40 Hurricane shots.

In the finale of the five-game home set, the Lightning came away with a victory over the Detroit Red Wings.  Tampa Bay lit the lamp one time in each period for a 3-1 triumph over the Motor City guys.

Braydon Point (4) and Steven Stamkos (1) along with Alex Killorn (2) all put the biscuit in the basket for the Bolts.  The scoring for the Lightning could have easily been higher if it were not for the efforts of Detroit G Jimmy Howard.  The Red Wings netminder had 28 saves with a good portion of them on odd-man rushes to keep the Red Wings within striking distance.

Again, the Bolts goaltending was the story.  Vasilevskiy (3-1) stopped 29 shots with some of the saves bordering on the spectacular.

So, let’s do the arithmetic for the opening fistful of contests.  Tampa Bay had a 4-1 slate and that’s good for 8 points.  You have to surmise that Jon Cooper will take that any day of the week and twice on Sunday over a five-game stretch.

A couple of observations by the untrained eye.  The first, and I could be totally off base with this assessment, it looks like the ice surface itself looked choppy and soft.  I base my opinion on the fact that you saw a lot of players losing their edge and falling as well as an abnormal amount of passes hoping over sticks.

To me, that’s a clear indication that the playing surface is not at an optimum level.  With that being said, let’s not blame the Amalie Arena staff for this.  Heck, it’s been in the high 80s and low 90s for the entire home stand.  Try making ice in that environment.

Second, the special teams look to be operating at a higher level than in the past.  The power play, with five goals, looks to be energized especially after a four-goal man advantage outburst against Columbus.

Also, the penalty kills has been off the charts.  The Bolts have yet to give up a power play goal in 23 tries and have 3 shorthanded goals to boot.

Now, Tampa Bay heads out for a five-game road trip beginning Saturday night in Minnesota against the Wild.  It culminates with a week later with a contest in Phoenix with the Arizona Coyotes.

Look for my review of the road trip next weekend.  Go Bolts.