LIGHTNING : GAMES 71 TO 75 : RECAP
By Leo Haggerty

The Bolts start off this five-game span with the final game of a quick road trip in Detroit against the Red Wings .  Tampa Bay then comes home for a contest with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals followed by a date with the improving Arizona Coyotes.  Then its back on the road with a return date with Washington in DC then south to Raleigh for a contest with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Will this phenomenal streak of wins continue?  We’ll just have to gather around the TV to find out.

DETROIT RED WINGS (W 5-4)

Tampa Bay dug an early 3-0 hole against the Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena but found a way to crawl out.  The Bolts pulled out a 5-4 come-from-behind victory to increase their winning streak to three games with a four-goal final period barrage.

Detroit opened up a quick 1-0 lead just 2:20 into the tilt.  The Red Wings increased the margin when the Bolts allowed an uncharacteristic shorthanded marker at 10:24.  Both teams went to the first intermission with the Lightning on the short end of a 2-0 score.

The Motor City Crew stretched the lead to 3-zip at 3:43 of the middle period.  Detroit looked like it was going to finally end the streak of regular season losses to Tampa Bay at 14.

The Bolts finally dented the scoring column at 12:57 of the second period with their lethal power-play.  F Steven Stamkos (35) was, for some strange reason, left alone in at the top of the left circle.  #91 calmly skated to the dot and blistered a laser between Red Wings G Jimmy Howard and the near post.  Even with the goal that tied Stamkos with future Hall of Famer Vincent Lecavalier for the most goals scored in Tampa Bay franchise history, the Red Wings still held a commanding 3-1 advantage at the end of 40 minutes of play.

The Lightning exploded with a four-goal outburst in the final 20 minutes starting at 1:46.  F Brayden Point (38) started the onslaught and Tampa Bay again made the Red Wings pay for being in the penalty box with the next goal.  F Nikita Kucherov (34) tied the score just four seconds into the power-play when he lit the lamp at 8:24 and the National Hockey League’s leading point-producer wasn’t finished yet.

After F Tyler Johnson (25) gave the Lightning their first lead of the evening just 26 seconds later, Kucherov (35) put the biscuit in the basket for the second time to increase the Tampa Bay advantage to 5-3 at 16:38.  The Red Wings made it interesting with a goal at 18:18 but the Lightning held on for their NHL leading 54th win.

Tampa Bay G Andrei Vasilevskiy managed to keep the Bolts in the game with some outstanding stops especially on odd-man rushes and breakaways particularly in the second period.  #88 made 23 saves and, with the win, advanced to 33-8-4 on the campaign.  Detroit G Howard stopped 34 shots in defeat.

Now, my loyal readers, buckle up because the Caps are coming to Amalie Arena.  This is the first meeting between the teams that went to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals so they should be plenty of fireworks come Saturday night.

If you can’t be there, I’ll see you at the Boob Tube.  It should be must see hockey.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS (W 6-2)

 Well, Lightning fans, Round 1 of the Bolts-Caps best of three is in the books.  Tampa Bay stopped Washington 6-3 for their fourth consecutive victory as well as their 16th win in the last 18 tilts.

The big difference, in my humble opinion, is when the Capitals amped up the physicality early in the first 10 minutes of play and the Lightning did not shy away.  They took the Caps best shot and punched back.  I believe that caught Washington by surprise and, before they could recover, the Bolts were on the scoreboard with an early lead.

Also, it didn’t hurt that F Alex Killorn posted his first National Hockey League hat trick.  Can never discount three goals in a game by anybody, right?

Tampa Bay jumped out to a 2-0 advantage midway through the opening 20 minutes in just under two minute span.  Johnson (26) lit the lamp at 8:35 and was followed by the first goal by Killorn (14) at 10:33.

Washington cut the lead to 2-1 at 12:06 when D John Carlson slid the puck past Vasilevskiy but the Bolts answered that with a marker of their own at 15:56.  Killorn (15) notched his second of the evening and both teams went to the dressing room at the end of the initial period with the Lightning possessing a 3-1 margin.

The Capitals crept within one goal of the Lightning in the second period when F Alex Ovechkin put a deflection into the back of the net during a power-play at 7:33.  That would be the only score in the middle period leaving the Bolts holding a precarious 3-2 lead at the second intermission.

Initially, both teams traded goals in the third period.  The Lightning scored first when D Erik Cernak (4) blistered a shot from the right point that got past Capitals G Braden Holtby at 2:45.  Ovechkin countered with his second marker of the evening converting a bank-shot pass off the boards behind #88 by D Dmitry Orlov to get the Caps to 4-3 at 12:56.

That’s as close as Washington would get as Tampa Bay would post two empty net goals to salt away the victory. After a great hustle effort by Kucherov to keep the play alive, Killorn (16) found a way from a steep angle in the left circle to get the puck past Ovechkin who was doing his best goalie impersonation.

F Yanni Gourde (19) concluded the scoring with just two seconds left in regulation.  That made the final arithmetic 6-3 in favor of the Lightning.

#88 made 31 saves to move his record to 34-8-4 on the campaign.  G Holtby stopped an identical 31 shots in suffering the loss.

The same two teams will go at it again in DC after the Bolts take on the Arizona Coyotes on Monday at Amalie Arena.  Expect the Capitals to be ready to return the favor in Round 2 Wednesday in the District of Columbia.

ARIZONA COYOTES (W 4-1)

The winning bandwagon keeps on rolling in Tampa Bay as the Bolts defeated Arizona 4-1 at Amalie Arena.  That puts the Lightning consecutive winning streak at five games and the victory clinched the President’s Cup which signifies the best record for the 2018-19 regular season in the National Hockey League.

The game though was no indication of the final score.  Arizona drew first blood at 5:03 of the opening period.  After a Lightning turnover in their own zone, Clayton Keller (14) deposited the puck past Vasilevskiy from directly in front of the crease.  #9 came in all alone after F Christian Dvorac drew the Tampa Bay defensemen to him before sliding a perfect pass to the Coyotes forward who made no mistake.

Less than two minutes later, the Lightning answered to tie the score.  Stamkos (36) redirected a shot from the left point by D Ryan McDonagh past Arizona G Darcy Kuemper at 6:54.  Both teams went to the locker room at the end of the first 20 minutes of play tied at one.

That goal was a special one in Lightning history.  It gave #91 a franchise-record 384 goals surpassing Vincent Lecavalier.  The Bolts captain accomplished the feat in his 737th game in a Tampa Bay sweater.

The middle period belonged to both goaltenders.  Both Vasilevskiy for the Bolts and Kuemper for the Coyotes each faced double-digit shots on goal and turned all of them aside to keep the score at one each after 40 minutes of play.

Tampa Bay took the lead just 44 seconds into the final period.  D Victor Hedman (10), during a scramble in front of the Arizona goal, skated in from the left point and took a beautiful cross-ice pass from F Anthony Cirelli.  #77 wasted no time in depositing the rubber disk in the back of the net before Kuemper could get across the crease to make the save.

The score would remain at 2-1 until the last couple of minutes when the fireworks began.  It all started with Stamkos being whistled for a delay of game penalty when his clearing pass sailed over the glass at 18:21.  That would give Arizona the man advantage for the rest of the contest.

The Coyotes put plenty of pressure on Vasilevskiy but couldn’t find the back of the net.  With just about one minute to go in the game, Arizona decided to pull G Kuemper for the extra attacker making it a 6-4 power-play.

The strategy didn’t turn out well for the Coyotes as the Bolts dented the scoreboard twice in the last 45 seconds of regulation.  Cirelli (15) found the empty net from almost 200 feet away and then Gourde (20), taking a clearing pass from Vasilevskiy on another shorthanded situation, scored his second empty netter in the last two games to make the final score 4-1.

G Vasilevskiy stopped 28 shots to improve his 2018-19 log to 35-8-4.  G Kuemper made 22 saves in taking the hard luck defeat.

This sets the stage for the second of three meetings with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.  You can bet the house payment that the Caps will bring their A-game to the Capital One Arena when the Bolts come to town on Wednesday.

Will Tampa Bay be able to repeat their performance on Saturday when they posted a 6-3 win over Washington at Amalie Arena?  I guess we’ll just have to gather around the television and find out.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS (W 5-4 OT)

Well, Round 2 of the Capitals-Lightning three-game slugfest is history.  Tampa Bay came into the nation’s capital and outlasted Washington 5-4 in overtime at the Capital One Arena in what could very well be a prelude to the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup final series.

The entire story of this game was #88 in the white sweater. G Vasilevskiy faced a Caps franchise record 58 shots and he set a Bolts franchise record with 54 saves.

Washington came out on fire in the opening 20 minutes and put the first score on the board at 7:32.  The Capitals blistered the Bolts with 15 shots on goal but only found the back of the net once as both teams went to the first intermission with the Caps nursing a 1-0 lead.

The middle period saw both teams notch seven goals between them with #88 as well as the vaulted power-play of the Lightning being the top story.  Vasilevskiy faced another 22 shots from the Capitals and only allowed two pucks to get behind him.

Tampa Bay deposited the first three goals of the middle 20 minutes and the initial two occurred with the man advantage less than a minute apart.  Kucherov (36) lit the lamp at 1:19 and Stamkos (37) followed at 2:12.  Cirelli (16) gave the Bolts a 3-1 lead at 6:45.

The Capital came right back with two markers of their own to tie the contest.  Tampa Bay took the lead at 15:01 with Kucherov (37) beating Capitals G Braden Holtby for the third power-play marker of the period.  Both teams went to the locker room at the end of the second period with the Lughtning up 4-3.

It took the Capitals just over 19 minutes to send the game into overtime.  With the Washington net empty for the extra attacker, F Evgeny Kuznetsov managed to get one of the Caps 19 shots on goal with 53 ticks left in the final period behind #88.

Tampa Bay ended the tilt at 3:01 of the extra period.  Hedmon (11), on a 2-1 rush, skated in and deposited the rubber disk to give the Bolts another two points.

Caps G Holtby stopped 23 shots in earning a point for Washington as they stayed top the Metropolitan Division.  #88 made 31 move saves than his counterpart as he raised his record to 36-8-4.

The victory was the sixth straight for the Bolts and 18 of the last 20.  That increases the Tampa Bay league-leading point total to a whopping 118 points.

Now the Lightning take a quick trip south for a back-to-back in Raleigh with the Hurricanes. Then it’s off to play the Blues on Saturday in St. Louis before heading back to Tampa for the last two home games of the regular season.

Will the Bolts post another perfect five-game segment? Tune in tonight and see.

CAROLINA HURRICANES (W 6-3)

This was a game where most people, including myself, would not have been surprised if the Lightning came out on the short end of the score due to a couple of factors. The first was the physical and emotional toll the 5-4 win over the Capitals probably took on the Bolts the night before.  The second was game was the middle contest of a road back-to-back with a trip to St. Louis still to come.

Well, Tampa Bay found a way to extend their  winning streak to seven games with a 6-3 conquest of Carolina at the PNC Arena.  Again, the final score was no indication of how close the tilt happened to be.

The Bolts put the first score up at 3:20 of the opening 20 minutes.  Stamkos (38) made it 1-zip with the Lightning on their deadly power play.

Carolina then showed they were not going to go away quietly.  The Hurricanes tied the contest at 9:51 and took the lead at 11:32.

Johnson (27) even the count with just 26 seconds left in the first period.  Both teams went to the first intermission tied at 2 apiece.

The Hurricanes posted the only marker of the middle period.  F Jordan Staal slipped the rubber disk by Lightning G Louis Domingue at 6:34.  That gave Carolina a 3-2 lead at the end of the first 40 minutes.

The third period was all Tampa Bay.  The Bolts erupted with four goals, the last an empty-netter by McDonagh (9) at 18:55, to seal the deal.

Cirilli (17) lit the lamp at 3:35 and was followed by F Ryan Callahan (7) at 10:05.  Point (39) notched the second power-play of the evening for the Bolts as he managed to get the puck behind Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney at 16:36.  Tampa Bay then completed the scoring when #27 put the biscuit into the empty net.

#70 put another one in the victory column stopping 25 shots.  Domingue moved to an amazing 21-5-0 on the campaign.  McElhinney made 27 saves in defeat.

So, the Lightning conclude this five-game stretch going a perfect 5-0 for ten big points. That puts the Bolts a 58-13-4 and that equates to 120 points.

Let’s put the Tampa Bay season into perspective. The Lightning is 19 points ahead of their closest pursuers in the National Hockey League.  That’s amazing.

Now, it’s off to St. Louis to start the last five-game sequence of the regular season.  Then it’s back to Amalie Arena for a couple of home tilts  before the Bolts finish off the regular season with a four-game road trip.

Will the beat go on.  Meet you at the TV Saturday night to find out.