LIGHTNING : GAMES 51 – 55 : RECAP
By Leo Haggerty

Tampa Bay begins this set of five contests with back-to-back games in the Big Apple with the Islanders and the Rangers.  Then the Bolts return to Amalie Arena for a three-game stint with Las Vegas then St. Louis followed by Pittsburgh.

This will be a good test for the Bolts.  Of the five teams that the Lightning play in this sequence of games, only the Rangers would not be in the playoff picture if the season ended now.

Amazingly, the Bolts haven’t had any losing streak that has exceeded two games and that’s only happened on one occasion.  Let’s see if the Lightning can continue to rack up points in big numbers over these fistful of tilts.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS (W 1-0 SO)

The Bolts, after a loss in Pittsburgh earlier in the week, started their Big Apple back-to-back with a 1-0 Shootout victory against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.  With that being said, this will be the shortest recap that I have, or may ever do, of a hockey game.

The entire contest was controlled by the goalies.  Lightning G Andrei Vasilevskiy and Isles G Thomas Greiss were phenomenal.  Both net-minders stoned the opposition over the course of 65 minutes of play as the contest moved to the Shootout phase.

Both goaltenders continued their excellent play with only Tampa Bay D Victor Hedman able to slide the puck into the net as the other two Lightning shooters, as well as the three for New York, came up empty.

Vasilevskiy improved to 21-7-2 stopping all 36 shots to preserve the victory.  Griess, who was equally impressive, took the hard-luck defeat making 41 saves.

The Bolts now head into the city from Long Island to take on the other New York hockey team at Madison Square Garden tomorrow.  Look for Tampa Bay backup goaltender Louis Domingue to get the start between the pipes against the Rangers.

NEW YORK RANGERS (W 3-2)

In the second act of the Big Apple back-to-back, the Lightning came away with a 3-2 victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  That gave the Bolts four-points in their two New York contests but, like the previous evening, it wasn’t easy.

Tampa Bay scored first at 6:51 of the first period.  F Yanni Gourde (13) slid the puck past New York G Henrik Lundqvist and that was the only score in the opening 20 minutes of play.

The Lighting push their advantage to 3-0 in the second period.  D Erik Cernak (1) scored his first National Hockey League goal at 4:41 and was followed by F Steven Stamkos (28) at 8:33.  The Rangers were able to cut the lead late in the middle period and both teams went to the locker room with the Bolts holding a 3-1 advantage.

The Rangers cut the lead to 3-2 at the 6:49 mark of the final period with a power-play marker.  Tampa Bay G Louis Domingue took over from there and kept New York off the scoreboard to preserve the victory.

#70 stopped 31 shots to move to 17-4 on the season.  Lundqvist made 20 saves in defeat with two miraculous stops late in the final period to keep the Rangers in the contest.

The Lightning now return to Tampa Bay for a trio of home games at Amalie Arena.  The first will be against the Las Vegas Golden Knights who, in their short NHL history, have given the Bolts notoriously close contests.  Let’s see if the same scenario plays out this time.

LAS VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS (L 3-2 SO)

It seems that the prevalent pattern to this five-game sequence is overtime.  Tampa Bay fell to Las Vegas 3-2 in a Shootout at Amalie Arena in was has become a typical Bolts-Knights contest that is played at playoff intensity no matter when it falls on the schedule.

The Lightning opened the scoring 6:36 into the contest.  F Brayden Point (31) converted a rebound during a power-play opportunity that gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 that they held at the end of the first 20 minutes.

The Bolts extended their lead to 2-0 when rookie F Mathieu Joseph (13) slid the puck past Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury at 14:19 of the middle period.  The goal was originally disallowed by the referee who felt #7 interfered with the Golden Knights net-minder.  After a replay review, it was determined that Joseph was pushed into #29 by Colin Miller of the Knights and the goal was allowed.

A little over two minutes later, Vegas got one back on a breakaway that eluded Bolts G Vasilevskiy.  Both teams ended the second period with the Lightning clinging to a 2-1 margin.

Las Vegas tied the score early in the final period.  For the rest of regulation, as well as overtime, both goalies shined so the contest moved to the shootout phase.

Both goalies stopped the first five shots but the Knights Alex Tuch went glove side on #88 for the game-winner.  G Vasilevskiy made 35 saves in defeat and that dropped his season record to 21-7-3.  G Fleury stopped 24 shots in the victory.

The Bolts continue their home stand when the St. Louis Blues come calling.  Let’s set if extra hockey continues to be the norm.

ST. LOUIS BLUES (L 1-0 OT)

Ok, I lied.  Tampa Bay lost to St. Louis 1-0 in overtime at Amalie Arena and this will definitely be the shortest recap in Bolts history.

The story, like the Islanders contest at the beginning of this sequence of games, were the goaltenders.  The Lightning G Vasilevskiy and the Blues G Jordan Binnington were spectacular.  Both net-minders pitched shutouts for 60 minutes of regulation and the only marker was by the Blues F Brayden Schenn with 59 seconds left in overtime.

#88 stopped 38 shots in a losing cause and fell to 21-7-4 on the campaign. Binnington saved all 32 shots on goal to preserve the victory.

If memory serves me correctly, that’s the first time the Lightning have been kept off the scoreboard this season.  It also ties the Bolts longest losing streak of the campaign at two games even though Tampa Bay managed to garner a point in each contest.

Tampa Bay concludes the home stand with a visit from the Penguins.  After Pittsburgh put a whoopin’ on the Bolts up in the Steel City in their last meeting, it should be interesting how the Lightning react coming off that contest and the two previous tilts that ended up in the loss column.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (W 5-4)

Tampa Bay got the victory ship afloat as the Lightning found a way to come out on top against Pittsburgh at Amalie Arena.  The Bolts got back on the winning track with hard-fought 5-4 victory over the Penguins.

The Pens got on the board first at 13;36 but the Bolts answered with two markers in less than a minute.  Gourde (14) lit the lamp at 15:02 and Cernak (2) put the biscuit in the basket at 15:59.  Both teams went to the locker room with the Lightning holding a 2-1 advantage at the end of the first period.

Tampa Bay increased their lead to 3-1 with a shorthanded score.  With the Penguins having the man advantage, F Anthony Cirelli (10) made a nifty move in the neutral zone to create a breakaway and slid the puck by Pittsburgh G Casey DeSmith.  The problem was that the Black & Gold weren’t finished as they put up  the next two goals.  That put the score at 3-all after 40 minutes of play.

The Bolts took a 5-3 advantage with two goals in the final period.  F Tyler Johnson (19) put the puck in the back of the net at 4:54 and F J.T Miller (9) scored what proved to be the game-winner at 14:03.

Pittsburgh closed the gap to 5-4 with less than 5 minutes to go but Vasilevskiy closed the door from there.  #88 had 22 saves to move to 22-7-4 on the season.  DeSmith turned away 29 shots in a losing effort.

So, in a five-game span where Tampa Bay had two consecutive losses for only the second time in the 2018-19 season, the Lightning still managed to put up 8 points.  Not bad at all.

The Bolts will not have time to rest on their laurels.  This five-game sequence begins immediately with the Lightning travelling to South Florida for a next day contest with the Panthers.  Then it’s back to Tampa Bay for a three-game set before hitting the road to take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

We, in the media, are waiting for the Bolts to hit a slump.  Every team goes through that four or more game drought but Tampa Bay is just continuing their winning way.

The only thing to do is fasten your seat beats because this looks like a wild ride to the Stanley Cup.  Look for the next installment right after President’s Day.