The Lightning won back-to-back road games for the first time this season. It was a welcome change for a team that is just trying to claw its way back into the playoff race. Tonight’s two points will go a long way in ensuring the Bolts have a chance at the post-season. Roloson was superb, the offense did what it had to and the defense held its own for the most part. It wasn’t the prettiest of games for the Bolts, but they got the job done. That’s what counts. Any win against a Dave Tippett coached team is a huge win. Tonight’s game was exactly that. Here are my post-game thoughts.
The First Period
In the pre-game report, it was noted that the Lightning would have to weather an early storm. The Coyotes knew that the Bolts played last night and they took advantage. The puck didn’t leave the Lightning zone for the first few minutes of the period. The Lightning were turning over pucks, making stupid passes and generating absolutely nothing. Thankfully, the Coyotes were not able to capitalize on their chances and take-aways early on. Consider for a second that the Lightning weren’t able to get a shot on Mike Smith until midway through the first period; that’s how bad things were. One could make the excuse that the Lightning were tired, but still, they should be able to at least test the goaltender.
The Bolts’ first real good chance came at about the 10 minute mark when Marty St. Louis took a Dominic Moore pass straight to the net to create a great scoring chance. Mike Smith spread out across his crease and managed to deny Marty of the goal he so obviously deserved. Since coming back from injury, Marty has been putting up tons of assists but not many goals. It was nice to see him get a Grade-A offensive chance even though he didn’t deposit it.
That St. Louis chance really seemed to wake the Lightning up through the latter part of the first period. They started shooting the puck, creating chances and using speed to their advantage. That’s what this Bolts group needs to do to win. It wasn’t long after the aforementioned St. Louis chance that Moore, Marty and Stammer combined to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. The passing in the slot among the three guys was something special to watch. Stammer was left all alone in front of the net and he made no mistake in putting up his 32nd goal of the year.
A couple minutes before the period ended, Pavel Kubina threw the puck on net on a rather harmless play. Mike Smith left a juicy rebound in the slot and an unguarded Teddy Purcell put the puck in the net to extend the lead. As a Lightning fan, it’s really great to see Teddy Purcell get hot. That was his third goal on this mini west coast trip. Teddy is a guy who could really come in handy down the stretch to take some of the defensive attention off Stammer, Vinny and Marty.
Through the first period, all three keys of the game remained intact. The Bolts got really solid goaltending from Roloson, they stayed disciplined and they weathered the early storm. I mentioned Roloson for a reason. Had it not been for him early in the game, the Bolts probably wouldn’t have walked out of the first period with a 2-0 lead. As a result, he gets the player of the period honors.
Bolts Player of the Period: Dwayne Roloson
The Second Period
The start of the second was a lot better for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They came out aggressive, strong and determined. The Lightning forechecked hard and created offensive chances because of it. Just over six minutes in, the lead was extended to 3-0 when Marty St. Louis shot the puck past Mike Smith after a beautiful pass from Trevor Smith. As I mentioned earlier, seeing Marty get the great chances is really positive for this team. Finally, he was able to convert for his first goal in 13 games. Not only was it great to see Marty finish off the play, it was also great to see PC Labrie get his first NHL point. Congratulations to the young man who is quickly establishing himself as a solid NHL player.
Shortly after the third goal, the Bolts were given an opportunity to all but end the game when the Coyotes took a penalty. The PP started out really nicely with some nice chances and stellar puck movement. It was about halfway through the PP that Korpikoski jumped on a puck and took advantage of the 5-forward setup to put a shorthanded goal up on the board. As I mentioned last game, the 5-forward setup is a bit of a double edged sword. Personally, I still like it.
Still in control at 3-1, the Bolts ended up taking a penalty when Clark interfered with the Coyotes’ player. On the PP, the Coyotes moved the puck really well and created some dandy offensive chances. Unfortunately for the guys who call the desert home, they couldn’t get many on net. Ray Whitney had the best chance on the PP but Roloson was equal to the task and made the HUGE stop to keep the lead at 2 goals. I know we often harp on the guy, but he played a solid game for the guys and made the stops that were needed.
The rest of the period was played without a lot of flow. The Lightning seemed comfortable just sitting back and conserving energy. Knowing that the Bolts played the night before, I can’t say that really surprises me. Guy Boucher actually did a really nice job of forcing the Coyotes into having to skate 200 feet every time they wanted to create offense. It wasn’t the most exciting style but it was a great coaching move to protect the two goal lead. At this point in the season, the Lightning just need to focus on winning and not how they are winning. Two points is two points whether the game is high flying and exciting or dull and slow.
Even when Downie scored the Lightning’s fourth goal of the game, it didn’t look like the guys were really giving it their all. Downie simply slapped the puck off net from a bad angle and it squeaked by Mike Smith. As far as ugly goals goes, that’s just about as bad as they come. You can bet that Smith would love to have that one back. Vinny Lecavalier assisted on the goal to continue his strong offensive play as of late. With a three goal lead, Guy Boucher was able to really spread out the ice time to end the second. Labrie had a number of shifts along with other players who normally wouldn’t see a lot of ice. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: It’s a lot easier to play with the lead in the National Hockey League.
Despite giving up one goal in the period, Dwayne Roloson was once again really solid for the Lightning. He takes the player of the period honors again.
Bolts Player of the Period: Dwayne Roloson
The Third Period
The third began with a lot of PP time. The Coyotes had just about 30 seconds to start and then the Lightning got a full two minute advantage. Neither team was able to convert, leaving the score at 4-1.
Only seconds later, Keith Yandle ripped a one-timer from the point and it got by a screened Roloson. There wasn’t a lot Rollie could do on that one as he had three players blocking his line of vision. Speaking of Yandle; he is exactly what this Lightning team needs. If there is such a thing as an underrated all-star, Yandle is the pure definition. He does everything so well and just plays the game the right way. He is a true number one D-man. Phoenix would be stupid to give Yandle up, and they probably never will. But, could you imagine?
After Yandle narrowed the gap to two goals, you could see the Coyotes’ intensity level shoot through the roof. They played like they did early in the first period. The ‘Yotes were hard on the puck, forechecking and creating offensive chances in front of Roloson’s net. The havoc created by the Coyotes seemed to throw the Lightning off. It almost seemed like they didn’t know how to respond to the increased intensity level. At 4-1, that’s pretty excusable. In a tight came, that would be slightly more concerning.
The scrambled atmosphere continued for most of the third culminating with a really tense moment when Roloson was all but knocked out. The Lightning tender had his neck jammed in between Hanzal and his eqipment. He lay on the ice motionless for several moments. After having such a strong night to that point, it was really upsetting to see the guy injured like that. Despite staying in the game, I’m not totally convinced that he is totally okay. It looked very severe and you could see Rollie kinking his net every few minutes from that point on. With a two goal lead late in the third, I would have thrown Garon in there rather than risk further injury with Rollie. Whenever a player is injured, the only thing that concerns me is their health. Above all, these guys are human beings.
Moments later, the Phoenix Coyotes converted on the man advantage when Ray Whitney fired one from the point. It looked as though it deflected somewhere in front of Roloson but I could be wrong on that. The game was 4-3 with time remaining and the atmosphere was tense yet exciting. It’s that sort of situation that really defines a team’s mental strength. The Lightning could have rolled over and let the Coyotes back into this one, but no. They held off the ‘Yotes and won the game. That’s the mark of a good team. It may not have been the best game for the Bolts, but they found a way to win. That’s what matters in this league.
Bolts Player of the Period: Dwayne Roloson
From this point until the end of the season, I’m going to update the standings. It’s important to keep tabs on them as they change ever so often. In fact, there was a point during the game tonight that the Lightning found themselves in last place in the East. That’s not the case anymore. Here are your updated standings:
11th Place: Montreal Canadiens with 45 Points through 48 Games
12th Place: New York Islanders with 44 Points through 46 Games
13th Place: Tampa Bay Lightning with 44 Points through 47 Games
As you can see, tonight’s win puts the Lightning in a much better position to move up the standings in February. With the all-star break here and a light schedule to end the month, the Bolts will be ready to take on the Blue Jackets and Capitals. Two wins there would go a long way in our quest for that elusive 8th spot. Let’s make it 4 wins in a row.
With all the time off I will be updating rumors quite frequently, writing about Bolts news and then just my random hockey blogs that come out every once in a while. Also, any questions you turn in will be posted in a “Your Questions” blog over the break, so please do not hesitate to throw something in there. My last thing in this blog is a request from my readers.
I am looking to change my Twitter name so that it has something to do with Hockeybuzz, MyHockeybuzz, the Bolts or any combination. Any suggestions would be more than welcome as I plan on doing that within the next couple of days. If I pick your suggestion, I’ll throw a shout-out to my followers on Twitter for you.
Thanks for reading and have a great rest of your weekend!
Follow me on Twitter: @michaelstuart93