LIGHTNING : GAMES 81 TO 82 : RECAP
By Leo Haggerty

The Bolts finish up the regular National Hockey League season with a couple of road games against “Original Six” opponents.  The first is a Thursday night encounter in Toronto followed by a season-ending afternoon matinee tilt in Boston.

Tampa Bay has a shot to tie the NHL all-time wins mark with victories in the last two contests.  Look for the Maple Leafs and the Bruins to give a maximum effort to try and thwart the Lightning’s attempt to etch their names in the record book.

It’s Big Brother, two members of the Original Six, going up against Little Brother, a new kid on the block expansion franchise.  That makes it “Must See Lightning TV” for my money.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (W 3-1)

In a game that had very little meaning when it comes to playoff seeding, Tampa Bay bested Toronto 3-1 at the Scotiabank Arena.  The victory was the Lightning’s 61st and moved the Bolts within one win of tying the NHL record for regular season triumphs but it wasn’t easy.

The Maple Leafs scored the first goal of the game at 4:41 of the opening period.  Toronto G Frederik Andersen made that stand up and the Bolts went to the locker room at the first intermission down 1-0.

Tampa Bay knotted the score early in the second period.  F Steven Stamkos (44) scored a rare shorthanded goal at 5:37 of the middle period.  The arithmetic stayed at 1-all going into the second intermission.

For the first 40 minutes, Andersen and Lightning G Andrei Vasilevskiy were the story.  The Leafs net-minder turned away 19 of 20 shots and #88 saved 17 out of 18 pucks sent on goal.

So, it was all going to come down to who could score first in the final 20 minutes of regulation.  That individual was the Bolts F Alex Killorn (18) who found the back of the net at 14:12 of the third period.  F Nikita Kucherov (40) added an empty-net insurance marker with just 55 seconds left in the tilt.

G Vasilevskiy made 29 saves to increase his record to 39-10-4 on the campaign.  G Anderson took the hard-luck defeat stopping 27 shots.

So, the Bolts move on to Boston for a Saturday matinee date with the Bruins and destiny.

Do the Lightning go all-in to get that 62nd record-tying victory or do they rest certain individuals to get ready for the playoff?  Let’s all gather around the TV this weekend and find out, shall we?

BOSTON BRUINS (W 6-3)

In the last regular season contest, Tampa Bay dispatched Boston 6-3 at the TD Garden on Saturday afternoon.  It was the 62nd, and record-tying, victory for the Lightning and catapulted the Bolts into the Stanley Cup playoffs riding a two-game winning streak.  Again, as we saw in the last game in Toronto, it was not easy.

With backup G Louis Domingue on the mend, Coach Jon Cooper decided to start Syracuse G Eddie Pasquale for the third time this season.  The strategy didn’t start off so well for #80 and the Bolts.

The Bruins dented to scoreboard first.  Boston scored at 14:38 and added another marker at 19:40.  That gave the Beantown Gang a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

Tampa Bay stormed back in the middle period with a barrage of goals that covered three different possibilities of scoring.  First, D Erik Cernak (5) got the puck past Bruins G Tuukka Rask at 4:41 with the Lightning on their lethal power play.  That was followed by Stamkos (45) at 12:52 with his second shorthanded goal in as many games.  Finally, F Anthony Cirelli (19) lit the lamp at 16:59 with an even-strength marker.  Both teams left the ice for the second intermission with the Bolts holding on to a 3-2 lead.

The Lightning built a two goal lead again less than a minute into the final stanza.  Kucherov (41) split the defense and found the back of the net just 53 seconds into the third period.  Boston answered at 14:03 but Tampa Bay almost immediately struck back.

13 seconds later, D Braydon Cobourn (4) pushed the Bolts advantage back up to 5-3.  F Tyler Johnson (29) collected an empty net marker of his own at 18:34 to finish the Bruins and the scoring.

G Pasquale stopped 30 shots in improving his record to 2-1.  G Rask made 16 saves in the loss.

So, the NHL regular season has come to a close.  Now, it’s second-season time where you have to beat the other guys four times to survive and advance to the finals.

16 wins gets you the hardware and it’s a tall order.  That’s why hoisting the Stanley Cup is the most difficult achievement in all North American professional sports.

So far, lot’s of great memories for the Bolts in 2018-19.  As a team, 62 wins tying the NHL record for victories in the regular season.  Individually, Kuckerov’s 128 points and Vasilevskiy’s 39-10-4 record in net led the way with numerous other outstanding accomplishments.

Now, let me warn you.  All of these accolades are worthless unless you bring Lord Stanley back to Tampa.  Need I remind you of the year when Golden State set the record for most regular season triumphs in the National Basketball Association and then lost in the finals.  That became a meaningless statistic because the Warriors couldn’t seal the deal with a championship.

The Lightning do not want that to happen.  Plus, I would assume that every member of the organization still has a bad taste in their mouth over the way Tampa Bay exited the 2018 playoffs in the Eastern Conference finals.

With all of that being said, I’m predicting a deep run in the playoffs for the Lightning.  I expect the Bolts to get, at least, as far as they advanced last year especially with home-ice advantage no matter who the opposition may be.  Then, it’s all a matter of who shows up in the other color sweater.

In case you can’t make it to Amalie Arena or are out of town and can’t get the television or radio broadcast, look for my posted updates after every playoff game.  Hopefully, I will have a tidbit or two for you to nibble on until the next contest.

Go Bolts.