LIGHTNING : GAMES 76 TO 80 : RECAP
By Leo Haggerty

The Lightning head into their last five-game sequence on a high note.  Tampa Bay is riding a seven game winning streak but have to start the five-gamer in St. Louis and the Blues are notorious for giving the Bolts fits.  Then the team returns to Tampa for a contest with Boston on Monday.  After a much-needed four-day rest, the final home encounter of the National Hockey League regular season just happens to be Round 3 with Washington Saturday evening and know the Capitals do not want to go into the Stanley Cup playoffs without a win over Tampa Bay.

After that, due to the Women’s Final Four taking place at Amalie Arena, the Lightning take to road for a Canadian back-to-back.  The first tilt in Ottawa against the Senators followed by a date with the Canadians in Montreal.

Tampa Bay still has a chance to eclipse the NHL record of 62 regular season wins held by the Detroit Red Wings.  Will the Bolts do it?  Only time will tell and this last five-game span will be a great barometer to answering that question.

ST. LOUIS BLUES (L 4-3)

If there’s one team in the Western Conference of the National Hockey League that gives the Lightning fits every time they meet on the ice it’s the St. Louis Blues.  This contest was no exception as the Blue Notes held on for a 4-3 victory at the Enterprise Center that snapped the Bolts seven-game winning streak.

The game started out like St. Louis was going to run Tampa Bay out of the building.  Midway through the opening period, the Blues jumped all over the Lightning with three goals in the span of 1:15.  F Robert Thomas opened the scoring with a power-play marker at 11:30 and that was followed by two quick goals, the first at 12:08 with the second just 37 seconds later, that eluded Tampa Bay G Andre Vasilevskiy.  The first 20 minutes ended with Bolts reeling and on the short end of a 3-0 count.

The Lightning came to life early in the second period.  F Alex Killorn (17) scored a shorthanded goal just 27 seconds into the second period to cut the Bolts deficit to 3-1.  F Brayden Point (40) found the back of the net at 7:24 to reduce the Blues lead to 3-2.

St. Louis stopped the bleeding at 14:24.  Both teams went to the second intermission with the Blues holding a 4-2 advantage.

F Steven Stamkos (39) got the Lightning within a goal at 4:46.  Unfortunately, that was as close as Tampa Bay would get as St. Louis G Jordan Binnington closed to door the rest of the way to secure the victory.

To the Bolts credit, they peppered #50 all game long.  The Blues net minder was forced to make 39 saves to preserve the win.  #88 stopped 22 shots in a losing effort.  That dropped Vasilevskiy to 36-9-4 on the campaign.

Tampa Bay now returns to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena for the last two home games of the regular season.  Then it’s on the road for the last four tilts.

Don’t look for the Lightning to take their foot of the gas during the last six games before the playoffs especially the two upcoming home match-ups.  Why don’t I see this happening?  I can sum up the two home encounters in six words.  Boston Bruins Monday.  Washington Capitals Saturday.

Need I say more?  See you at Amalie or around your TV sets for this battle of the Big Dogs in the NHL East.

BOSTON BRUINS (W 5-4)

Nothing comes easy for the Bolts when they square off with the Bruins.  So, to no one’s surprise, Tampa Bay managed to scratch out a 5-4 come-from behind victory over Boston at Amalie Arena in a game that wasn’t decided until the final minutes of the third period.

The Lightning drew first blood at 6:42 of the opening period.  Stamkos (40) took a picture-perfect pass from F Ryan Callahan just to the left of Bruins G Tuukka Rask and made no mistake to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead.

Boston evened the score at 8:30 but #91 (41) found the back of the net again with his patented one-timer from the left circle.  Both teams went to the locker room after the first 20 minutes with Tampa Bay holding a 2-1 advantage.

The second period belonged to the Bruins as the visitors tallied three times.  The first at 8:42 evened the score and the Bees scored two more goals in less than a minute at 13:41 and 14:32.  The second intermission came with Boston holding a 4-2 lead.

Tampa Bay completed turned the momentum that the Beantown Crew had built early in the final period.  D Victor Hedmon (12) lit the lamp at 5:36 to get the hometown team within a goal.  The Lightning tied the score at 13:15 when F Nikita Kucherov blasted the puck from the right circle between Rask and the near post to knot the score at four.

F Anthony Cirelli (18) notched the game-winner with just 57 seconds left in regulation.  From that point, with the help of a Boston penalty to F Brad Marchand at 19:21, Tampa Bay held on to record their 59th win of the campaign.

#88 moved to 37-9-4 with the win stopping 13 shots.  Rask took the loss making 23 saves.

Now, it’s a well-earned hiatus until Round 3 with the Caps this weekend.  You know Washington will be loaded for bear, especially after their recent trip to the White House to celebrate their 2018 Stanley Cup championship, when they show up in Tampa.

Will the Bolts get the trifecta Saturday night or will the Capitals find a way to win against the top team in the NHL?  See you at the arena or the television set at your favorite watering hole to find out.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS (L 6-3)

There’s an old adage in sports and it goes, “You can’t win them all.” Sure, you try to do that.  On the professional level, except for the possibility of football, that’s something that’s simply unattainable because of the number of games you play.

So I’m not surprised that the Capitals marched into Amalie Arena and posted a 6-3 win over the Lightning.  Remember, they are the reigning Stanley Cup Champions and the Caps didn’t want to go into the playoffs with a big goose egg next to their line against the Bolts.

The DC Guys got after it early.  F Nicholas Backstrom scored at 7:24 of the opening period.  That was followed by a pair of markers by F T.J. Oshie, the latter being of the power-play variety, at 10:45 and 16:00 respectively.  Both teams exited the ice after the first 20 minutes with Tampa Bay on the short end of a three-zip count.

In the middle period, Washington increased their advantage to 4-0 when Backstrom slid the rubber disc by Vasilevskiy.  The Bolts finally found the back of the net against Capitals G Braden Holtby when F J.T Miller (13) lit the lamp at 17:25 to cut the Washington lead going into the second intermission.

The Lightning closed the gap to 4-2 at 3:36 of the final period.  F Tyler Johnson (28) scored an unassisted goal to give the Bolts hope but that fire was extinguished by big #8 in the white sweater.

F Alex Ovechkin scored twice in less than two minutes.  The first was a right-place score at 14:35.  Oshie banked the puck off the end boards from the left of #88.  It went right to the Washington Captain just to the right of Vasilevskiy and he deposited it into an open net.

The second goal was vintage Ovechkin.  It was a power play laser blast from the bottom of the left circle that got by a screened #88 at 16:15.

Kucherov (39) finished off the scoring with 28 seconds left in regulation.  That made the final arithmetic 6-3.

Holtby made 25 saves in the victory.  #88 stopped 29 shots in the loss and that dropped him to 37-10-4 on the campaign.

Now the Bolts hit the road for the last four games of the regular season.  It starts with a north-of-the-border back-to-back starting in Ottawa Monday and then moving to Montreal Tuesday.

The Bolts haven’t lost two in a row in regulation since November 10th and 13th.  Will that streak continue?  Meet you at the TV Monday night to find out.

OTTAWA SENATORS (W 5-2)

It seemed, on the surface, like an insignificant victory when Tampa Bay bested Ottawa 5-2 at the Canadian Tire Centre Monday night.  Ladies and gentlemen, it was far from it.

That was the 60th regular season win for the Lightning and it put the Bolts in very elite company.  They joined the 1976-77 Montreal Canadians, who also had 60 victories, along with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings who have the record with 62 triumphs.

An interesting fact is that Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper is only the second coach to have a 60 win campaign on their resume.  That’s because both of those other teams were coached by National Hockey League legend and Hall of Fame member Scotty Bowman.  If you do the math, that’s almost a 20 year span which makes that accomplishment by Bowman even more incredible.

The Lightning dented the scoreboard first at 12:04 of the first period. F Yanni Gourde slid the puck past Ottawa G Craig Anderson to give the Bolts an early lead.  The Senator matched that score with one of their own late in the opening stanza.  Both teams went to their locker rooms after the opening 20 minutes with the score knotted at one apiece.

It was all Tampa Bay in the second period as the Lightning posted two more markers.  The first was by D Mikhail Sergachev (6) at 7:48 that was followed by Pointe (41) at 13:43.  That gave the Bolts a 3-1 advantage at the second intermission.

Ottawa cut the Lightning’s lead to 3-2 at 4:34 of the final period.  Less than a minute later, Gourde (22) scored his second goal of the night at 5:22 to regain the two-goal cushion for Tampa Bay.  Stamkos (42) salted away the victory at 16:55 to move the Bolts to 124 points.

G Vasilevskiy made 22 saves and improved to 38-10-4 in 2018-19.  Anderson turned away 21 shots in a losing effort.

The Lightning now make the just over 2-hour bus ride east to Montreal for a Tuesday date with the Canadians in the final back-to-back of the 2018-19 regular season.  The Habs are fighting for their playoff lives so expect a great effort from the most storied of NHL organizations.

MONTREAL CANADIANS (L 4-2)

The Bolts came out on the short end of a 4-2 count against the Canadians Tuesday night at Centre Bell.  That ended the final five-game sequence for the Lightning with a rare 2-3 losing record.  That equates to four points in the standings.

I’m not making excuses but Tampa Bay looked like a tired hockey team.  Plus, the Lightning may have just exhaled after hitting the 60-win plateau the night before in Ottawa.

The game started out well for the Bolts.  Stamkos (43) put the rubber disc past Montreal G Carey Price at 2:28 of the first period.  The Habs even the score at 12:23 and the opening 20 minutes ended with the score all tied up at 1-all.

Tampa Bay took a 2-1 lead at 4:18 of the second period.  F Cedric Paquette (13) found the back of the net but the Canadians answered at 7:32.  That was all the scoring in the middle stanza that ended with both teams even at two goals each.

The Lightning started G Edward Pasquale for the second time this season.  #80 faced a barrage of 35 Canadians shots during the first two periods of play and made some tremendous saves to keep the Bolts in the contest.

Montreal took the lead at 7:47 of the final period and made it 4-2 at 10:08.  G Price threw a shutout at the Bolts in the last 20 minutes of play to secure the victory.

Pasquale stopped 41 of 45 shots in absorbing the loss.  That evened his record at 1-1 on the campaign.  G Price made 22 saves in earning the victory.

Tampa Bay now head to Toronto for an encounter with the Maple Leafs Thursday night.  Then the Lightning finish the regular season in Boston with a Saturday afternoon matinee tilt.

There’s only two questions to be answered now.  One is who the Bolts will play in the first round of the playoffs.  The second is will they tie the Red Wings with 62 wins.  Meet you at the television to see how that unfolds.