Once again the alarm clock failed to wake the Tampa Bay Lightning until it was too late. The Bolts found themselves down 2-0 fairly early in the game. It was then that the team woke up. Frustration, disappointment and fight finally made appearances for this group. We saw a team that was pissed off with losing, a team that wanted to win. However, we also saw a team that doesn’t have the talent, or depth to win against one of the league’s best.
It didn’t take long for things to go wrong for the Lightning tonight. Steven Stamkos took an early “slashing” penalty against Evgeni Malkin. I put the word slashing in quotation marks because that was a terrible call. As I’ve said before, I don’t like to harp on the officials, but come on. Stamkos did make contact with him, but it wasn’t until Malkin skated away that he stumbled. From there, it was pretty clear that the special teams weren’t going to friendly to the Lightning. This team has got to be better on the PK and make teams pay on the PP. Right now, it can’t do either of those things.
The Bolts actually almost killed off the penalty. The killers stayed in formation, pressured the puck and looked really solid. Even Garon made some big saves to inspire the team. All those good things went to waste when James Neal put the puck past Garon while both his feet were beneath the goal line. I don’t need to hear any excuses; that’s one that can’t go in. If you ask me, that goal pretty much summed up things to come. Imagine you’re a player and you see that. Are you inspired? Do you feel like this is going to be your night?
After the first goal, the Lightning managed to hold off the Penguins for a few minutes despite the puck staying hemmed in the Bolts’ zone. It wasn’t until the Penguins’ secret offensive weapon (sarcasm), Richard Park, stole the puck at the blue line and snapped a shot past Garon from the slot.
The second period didn’t have any scoring which was nice to see. As I pointed out in the first paragraph, once the Lightning were down 2-0 they started to play significantly better. The second period was much more even than the first, in my opinion. It’s tough to complain about a lot in that period other than the lack of offense. Down 2-0, the team has to come out and create something. Even heading into the third 2-1 gives this group a great chance.
Unfortunately, as aforementioned, the Lightning failed to score in the second period. Therefore, they headed into the third down 2-0. Only a few seconds in, Neal put a Stamkos-esque shot right past Mathieu Garon. Had it not been for the left handed stick and the Penguins jersey, I would have thought it was Stammer. The resemblance was uncanny.
I don’t seem to give this group enough credit when it comes to comebacks. Once it was 3-0, I can’t have been the only one who thought this game was over. Matt Gilroy made a really smart offensive play when he skated down low, got open and accepted the pass from Steven Stamkos (a beautiful feed). From there, he put a great shot past Fleury to give the Bolts a little bit of life. Gilroy is one of those players who has gone under the radar this year. He has actually been quite solid over this losing streak. I wouldn’t mind seeing him stick around for a little while. He’s still relatively young and he’s got some great skills and attributes.
That little bit of life turned into a lot of life when the Penguins took a high sticking penalty. Now, hold onto your hats fans, the Lightning actually scored a power play goal. Guess what? Boucher took Clark off the first unit power play and put 5 forwards out. I love it. They moved the puck well, created offensive chances, confused the penalty killers and scored a great goal. Vinny Lecavalier made one of the greatest passes you’ll ever see to find a wide open Malone in front of the net. He tapped it past Fleury for his 9th of the season. It was 3-2 early in the third and man was I getting excited.
With 13:10 to go in the third, Teddy Purcell tied the game up. The Lecavalier line was probably the best line of the night and no shift better displays that than this one. Everyone was forechecking, working hard and just playing like a real good hockey team. Gervais put the puck on net, which is always a good option, and Purcell was there for the rebound. That’s exactly what the Lightning need right now. They need players to go to the hard areas and fight for rebounds and scoring chances. If only every shift was executed so perfectly.
The Bolts found themselves in a tie game with the momentum of three goals behind them. What could go wrong? Apparently everything. Only a few short moments later, Evgeni Malkin walked out of the corner and put a backhander past Garon. Here’s a quick message to Eric Brewer: Instead of just watching the player with the puck, why not pressure the puck and protect your goalie? I know it’s tough to do, but come on.
After the first Malkin goal, it was the Malkin show. On a broken line change, the Lightning D failed to change quickly enough and Malkin picked up the puck and put it past Garon on a really nice deke. At 5-3, this game was all but over. How disappointing for the Lightning. Give the Penguins a lot of credit; they showed heart, determination and resiliency. Those are words that need to be used to describe the Lightning on a more regular basis.
Frustration started to make an appearance as the end of the game neared. Vinny Lecavalier and Malkin were jawing at each other. Then, in a rather uncharacteristic move, Vinny jumped Malkin from behind and gave him a few shots. All I’ve got to say is: Oh Captain, My Captain! That’s the mark of a true leader. Vinny finally looks like he has had ENOUGH of this losing. He showed pride and heart on that one play. I was really happy to see what happened there despite Vinny getting 4 for roughing and a 10 minute misconduct.
Despite losing the game, and allowing a natural hattrick to Malkin, I was happy with what the Lightning showed us at the end of the game. Good for Kubina and Vinny, two of the veteran guys on this team, for saying that they’ve had enough of this. In my opinion, this little bit of recklessness can only be good for this group. We’ll just have to see what happens. Still, without a win in 2012, the Lightning aren’t playing very well. Things have to change fast; the end of this game could be the start of said change. Only time will tell.
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