LIGHTNING : GAMES 66 TO 70 : RECAP
By Leo Haggerty

The Bolts begin this five-game sequence with a four-gamer at Amalie Arena before hitting the road for the finale.  Tampa Bay starts with Ottawa followed by Winnipeg then Minnesota and Detroit closes out the home stand.  Then the Lightning hit the road for a tilt at Toronto.

Also, being that it is getting close to the end of the regular season, I will post each game after it concludes instead of waiting for the completion of all five tilts.  This way, you will get up-to-the-minute reports on what is happening with the Lightning and I will just update with the rest of the four games when they occur.

Can Tampa Bay keep up this torrid pace? No one knows so all we can do is watch and see what transpires.

OTTAWA SENATORS (W 5-1)

Tampa Bay started off this five-game set on the good foot with a 5-1 win over Ottawa at Amalie Arena.  As you will read below, this contest had a little different twist as four of the Bolts goals were scored by the blue line crew.

The Senators came out strong and, in the first five minutes of the opening period, had the Bolts on their heels.  G Andrei Vasilevskiy had to make a quartet of big saves to keep Ottawa off the scoreboard.

Then, the Bolts woke up.  Tampa Bay started to put major pressure on the Senators G Craig Anderson and finally broke the ice at 7:17.  D Victor Hedman (9) took a nice pass off a rebound from F Anthony Cirelli and blistered a shot into the back of the net to give the Lightning the lead.

Tampa Bay increased their advantage at 8:51 with another goal by a defenseman.  D Erik Cernak sent a cross-ice pass to Ryan McDonagh (7) that got past Anderson to give the Bolts a 2-0 lead.

The Senators cut the lead in half less than a minute later. F Anthony DuClair put the puck over the shoulder of Vasilevskiy.  Both teams went to the locker room after the first 20 minutes with the Lightning nursing a 2-1 lead.

The Lightning stretched their lead to 3-1 at 3:15 of the middle period with another goal by the defense.  Cernak (3), after taking a perfect drop pass from F Alex Killorn, skated in on the right wing and made no mistake.

What eventually proved to be the turning point of the came at 5:06 of the second period.  Senators F Bobby Ryan was awarded a penalty shot when F Nikita Kucherov was called for slashing on the breakaway.

Ryan tried to go glove side on the penalty shot but #88 stoned him.  That was as close as Ottawa would get to getting back in the hockey game.

Kucherov (31) lit the lamp at 15:27 to give the Bolts a three-goal lead.  #86 sent what appeared to be a harmless wrist shot from the left boards just above the circle.  The puck went through a maze of traffic and found its way through the five-hole between Anderson’s legs to the back of the net.  Both teams went to the second intermission with Tampa Bay holding a commanding 4-1 lead.

The Lightning had the only score in the last 20 minutes and, again, it was by a blue liner.  Mikhail Sergachev (3), taking a cross-ice return pass from D Braydon Coburn, put the biscuit in the basket from the right point at 1:59.  That would be all the scoring in the period as the Bolts eased to a 5-1 win.

Tampa Bay G Vasilevskiy improved to 30-7-4 stopping 36 shots.  Ottawa G Anderson made 29 saves in a losing effort.

The win was the Bolts 50th in the first 66 games.  That ties the league record set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings.

Next up are the Western Conference Winnipeg Jets who are leading the Central Division.  Another stern test for Tampa Bay.  Will see if they are up to task.

 WINNIPEG JETS (W 5-2)

The Bolts continued their winning ways with a 5-2 triumph over Winnipeg at Amalie Arena. That increased Tampa Bay’s league-leading points total to 106!on a night where both teams scored a pair of goals via the power-play.

The Bolts opened the scoring early in the first period.  F Yanni Gourde (18) found the back of the net just 1:34 into the contest to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead.

The Jets knotted the score just under 5 minutes later with a power-play goal of their own.  Both teams went to their locker rooms after the initial 20 minutes all tied at one apiece.

Tampa Bay took the lead for good in the middle period with a pair of markers.  The first was by F Adam Erne (7) at 8:58 and the second was a power-play goal by F Steven Stamkos (34) at 14:26.  Both teams went to the second intermission with the Lightning holding a 3-1 advantage.

The Bolts extended the lead to 5-1 before the halfway point of the final period.  F Cedric Paquette (10) became a member of the Tampa Bay double-digit goal scorers club when he put the biscuit in the basket at 4:20.  That was followed by another power-play score when the Lightning’s leading goal scorer Brayden Point (37) found the back of the net at 9:50.

Winnipeg notched another power-play goal at 15:03.  That would be all the scoring for the Jets as Bolts G Vasilevskiy posted a clean slate for the rest of the contest.

#88 stopped 30 shots and moved to an amazing regular season mark of 31-7-4.  Jets Goalies Connor Hellebuyck, who was replaced by Laurent Brossoit for 3:16, made 33 saves in a losing effort.

Next up for the Bolts is another Western Conference foe.  Minnesota comes to Amalie Arena and the Wild are in a dogfight for a playoff spot.

Look for the guys from the Great Northwest to give a maximum effort in an attempt to garner 2 points.  I’ll see you Thursday at the TV to see what transpires.

MINNESOTA WILD (L 3-0)

Minnesota defeated Tampa Bay 3-0 at Amalie Arena.  What the Wild also accomplished was putting out the three-step blueprint on how to beat the Lightning.

Step 1, and the most important, is to score the first goal and take the lead.  This is the most vital piece of the puzzle because, without it, the other two parts become useless.

Step 2 is to go into a complete defense shell.  Pack all five skaters in the defensive zone.  That forces the Bolts snipers to try and shoot through a maze of bodies and only attack when you have numbers.

Step 3, and this is the hardest one to accomplish, is to have your goalie stand on his head.  The first two become moot points if the net minder can’t kept the puck out of the net.

Minnesota checked all three boxes last night.  That’s why the Wild put two points in their column and it didn’t hurt that F Jason Zucker was the whole show when it comes to scoring with a natural hat trick and G Devon Dubnyk stood on his head.

Zucker’s first goal came at 10:50 of the opening period.  That would be the only scoring in the first 40 minutes as Wild G Dubnyk put up two goose eggs on the scoreboard and Bolts G Vasilevskiy had only one blemish at the second intermission.

Minnesota made it 2-zip at 6:04 of the final period.  In a “wild” scramble in front of the Tampa Bay net, Zucker swatted the puck out of midair past #88.  Originally, there was some discussion as to whether #16 had put the biscuit in the basket with a high stick but, after all four on-ice officials huddled, it was determined that it was a good goal and I have to sadly agree with that assessment.

Zucker completed his three-goal outburst with an empty-netter at 18:14.  That gave the Wild a much-need road win and a precious two points as Minnesota moved up the standings in the Western Conference.

Dubnyk was spectacular in shutting out the Lightning who have been kept off the scoreboard for only the second time this entire year.  The Wild net-minder stopped all 25 shots that came his way.  Vasilevskiy made 27 saves in defeat and dropped to 31-8-4 on the campaign.

In reality, #88 played well enough to win but that doesn’t happen when you cannot find the back of the net.  Trust me, that won’t happen too often to the Lightning.

So, the Bolts go back to the drawing board to get ready for Detroit to finish out the home stand.  Then, it’s north of the border to take on Toronto.

Will the Red Wings try to employ the same strategy that was so successful for the Wild?  Let’s meet at the TV, or Amalie Arena, and see.

DETROIT RED WINGS (W 3-2)

 Tampa Bay donned the black Saturday uniforms, as you can see from the picture below, and came away victorious with a 3-2 victory over Detroit at Amalie Arena.  The Lightning improved to 52-13-4 on the season and advanced their league-leading point total to 108.

The Bolts opening the scoring at 3:06 of the initial period.  D McDonagh (8), after a faceoff win by Tampa Bay in the Detroit zone, slid the puck from the blue line past a screened Red Wings net-minder Jonathan Bernier to give Tampa Bay the early lead.

Tampa Bay looked like they were about to take a two-goal advantage just past the midway point of the first period.  The goal judge thought that a shot by Hedman found the back of the net but was rightfully overruled by the referee as the puck caromed off the left goal post and never crossed the goal line.

At 11:56, the Lightning did extend their lead.  Hedman floated the puck to the back boards in the Detroit zone to the left of Bernier.  #77 followed the biscuit in and managed to win a scrum and slide the disc to Point behind the net and just to his right.  #21 then found Kucherov (32) parked right in front of the net and he deposited the puck top shelf to the left of #45.

That goal gave #86 an amazing 109 points.  He became the Bolts all-time single-season leader when it comes to points eclipsing Tampa Bay legend Vincent Lecavalier with another baker’s dozen contests on the schedule.

Both teams went to the locker room with the Lightning hold a 2-goal advantage.  There was some hope for Detroit as the Red Wings started the middle session with a 1:33 power-play.

The Bolts successfully killed off that penalty to start the second period.  That comes as no surprise because the Lightning are first in the National Hockey League when it comes to killing penalties denying the opposition from scoring at an 85.6% clip.

Tampa Bay had three more chance to kill of penalties in the middle 20 minutes.  Lightning G Louis Domingue came up big on the second penalty when he stopped a point blank rebound to keep the Red Wings off the scoreboard.

 The third time on the power-play was the charm for Detroit as the Motor City Gang scored with just 4 seconds left in the second period.  F Tomas Vanek redirected a shot from D Niklas Kronwall to cut the Lightning lead to 2-1 after 40 minutes of play.

The Lightning extended their lead to 3-1 at 13:53.  After the Bolts F Tyler Johnson won a faceoff in the Detroit zone, Sergachev found Kucherov (33) who skated into the right circle.  #86 rifled a laser high that banked off the inside of the left post.

The Red Wings cut the margin to 3-2 with 56 seconds left in the contest. F Anthony Mantha lit the lamp but Detroit could not manage another legitimate scoring chance.

Lightning G Domingue moved to 20-5 on the season stopping 22 shots. That’s outstanding considering #70 is a back-up net-minder.  Red Wings G Bernier made 30 saves, with some of them bordering on the fantastic, in a losing effort.

The Lightning finished off the home stand 3-1 and now head out for a couple of roadies starting north of the border in Toronto.

Can the Bolts continue this torrid pace as they march toward the playoffs?  I’ll meet you at the TV Monday night for Game 70 on the regular season.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (W 6-2)

TO BE ADDED SHORTLY!!

Tampa Bay finished off their 14th five-game sequence with a convincing 6-2 victory over Toronto at the Scotiabank Arena.  The triumph was the Bolts second in a row after suffering a shutout loss at home to the Minnesota Wild.

Tampa Bay got on the scoreboard first at 10:27.  F Tyler Johnson (23) managed to get the puck past Maple Leafs G Frederik Andersen.  Cirelli (14) followed with another Lightning marker at 18:38 and both teams finished the first 20 minutes with the Bolts holding a 2-0 advantage.

The middle period was all Lightning as the Bolts outscored Toronto 3-1 during that twenty-minute block.  Tampa Bay lit the lamp twice in the early stages of the second period to take a 4-0 lead.  Johnson (24) scored for the second time at 4:20 and F Ondrej Palat (8) found the back of the net just 30 seconds later.  That led to the decision to replace Leafs G Andersen being replaced by backup Garret Sparks.

The Maple Leaps cut the margin to 4-1 at 11:49.  The Bolts made it a four-goal margin again when Paquette (11) found the range at 18:16 with the Lightning shorthanded.  Both teams would head to the locker room for the second intermission with Tampa Bay holding a commanding 5-1 lead.

Both teams would dent the scoreboard one more time in the third period.  Paquette (12) again scored at 5:59 of the final stanza.  Toronto got a final tally with five seconds left in the contest to make the final count 6-2.

#88 stopped 26 shots to improve to 32-8-4 on the campaign.  Both Toronto goalies combined for 36 saves in a losing effort.

Well, in my last Lightning recap, I surmised that if the team averaged 6 points per five-game sequence over the last three spans that the Bolts would be somewhere just south of 120 points.  Well, guess what? Tampa Bay hit the first marker posting 8 points.

Now, instead of needing to average six points over the last two cycles, Tampa Bay only need five twice to be hovering right at the 120 point plateau with two games remaining.  That would be quite an accomplishment as well as making the Lightning the odds-on team-to-beat in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

So it’s off to the Motor City to start the next five-game with a date with the Red Wings.  Will the Bolts make it three-in-a-row?  See you at the TV to find out.