Six game win streaks are always nice, aren’t they? Unfortunately, the Lightning didn’t manage to get to that elusive sixth straight W. Instead, they walked out of the Tampa Bay Times Forum with one point to keep pace with “the pack”. Two would have been nice; but by no means are the Lightning out of the race. What matters right now is that the Bolts continue to pick up points in EACH and EVERY single game they play. Efforts like tonight’s will do that for a team.
The First Period
It wasn’t necessarily the start the Lightning were looking for. Mathieu Garon had to stand tall early and make some big saves to keep the guys in this one. Despite only generating seven shots in the entire period, the Jets had some great chances early in this one. Luckily, the Bolts woke up about midway through the period and started doing the things that have made them successful over this five game win streak.
The bread-and-butter of this team is speed. For those who don’t follow the Lightning closely, it would seem like that is a pretty odd statement considering the Bolts have a reputation for playing the 1-3-1. That reputation of boring, stale hockey is ridiculously unwarranted. When the Bolts use their speed, they are very tough to handle. Guys like Shannon, Wyman, Stamkos and Hedman were absolutely flying in the latter half of the period (and all game long for that matter). When you look at the last 5 wins, it’s all been about speed. The Bolts have had speed through the neutral zone, speed in the corners and speed in the offensive zone. Credit speed for ten points in the standings.
Once the Lightning started using their speed, the chances started to come. Unfortunately, nobody was able to covert the pressure into a goal. The first period ended knotted in a 0-0 tie which probably made the Lightning coaching staff very happy after the sluggish start.
For the player of the period honors, I’m going to have to go with Mathieu Garon. He made the saves early that really kept the Lightning in the game. He is really starting to give this team the kind of goaltending it needs down the stretch. He’s a hardworking guy who is getting his chance to succeed right now. Congratulations, Mathieu!
Bolts Player of the Period: Mathieu Garon
The Second Period
It’s hard to call any period in a National Hockey League game boring, but the first period was certainly not exciting. The second period, on the other hand, was a little more upbeat on both sides. Early in the period, the Lightning were awarded a powerplay when the Jets had too many men on the ice. I don’t want to harp too much on the coaching staff here, but why is Clark on the powerplay with Hedman firmly planted on the bench? Yes, he’s coming back from injury, but come on. Someone should have kept count of how many PP goals the Bolts have scored with Clark on the ice. Not too many.
Shortly after, the Jets were awarded their second PP of the night. As much as fans harp on special teams for the Bolts, the PK has been quite solid over the last little while. The guys on the PK unit continually cut down angles, block shots and clear the puck out of harm’s way. Combine those factors with solid goaltending from Garon, and 9 times out of 10 the PK is going off the ice happy.
That penalty kill really started a nice run of chances from the Lightning. Purcell and St. Louis got in on the action and had a couple dandy chances. Unfortunately for the Lightning, Ondrej Pavelec was equal to the task. With so much talk about great goaltenders around the league, Pavelec seems to get ignored. This guy is going to be the real deal in a few years; look out.
The second period ended with some frantic action at both ends of the rink. The Lightning easily could have had a couple goals but Pavelec, and bad luck prevented anything from going in. With 15 seconds left, Blake Wheeler was left all alone to pot the game’s first goal to make it 1-0 Jets. In a period that the Lightning absolutely dominated, it was demoralizing to see the Jets get one so late.
Bolts Player of the Period: Vincent Lecavalier
The Third Period
Sooooo….did any Jet other than Ondrej Pavelec come out to start the third? It looked like the Lightning against the worst AHL team. The puck didn’t leave the Jets zone unless it was dumped out in a frantic effort to clear. The Lightning absolutely dominated the third period; they created chances, scoring opportunities and they moved the puck really well.
Finally, all the hard work was rewarded. Welcome back, Victor! In only his second game back from a scary concussion, Victor Hedman made an end to end rush and deposited the puck past Pavelec. Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were awarded the assists on the play. All three guys had played well all night long and definitely deserved the points. As I said last game, when Vic is in the line-up, this team is just that much better. He is a true difference maker for the Bolts.
The hard work and great chances continued for the Lightning. The Hedman, St. Louis, Purcell, Stamkos quartet worked really well together all night. That was highlighted by the way they moved the puck to create chances in the third period. Everyone got involved in the offence. It was really nice to see the Lightning not take their foot off the gas even after tying up the game. That can often hurt a team, not the Lightning tonight. Opportunity came knocking when the Jets took an iffy slashing penalty. Unfortunately, nobody was home to answer the door. The Lightning failed to record a shot on goal on the man advantage.
That pretty much sealed the fact that these two teams were headed to overtime.
Bolts Player of the Period: Victor Hedman
Overtime didn’t exactly start the way the Bolts had in mind. Little was given a grade-A chance to end the game but Garon was there to make his biggest save of the night. How good has this guy been over the last little while? He has been a difference maker over this streak; there’s no two ways about it.
Midway through the extra frame, Marty St. Louis was decked from behind by none other than Andrew Ladd. That was a gutless play by Ladd that could have had very serious consequences. How on earth no penalty was called on that play is beyond me. Ladd cross-checked him right in the numbers. That’s dirty, gutless and just plain dangerous. I’m not a huge fan of the whole head hit rule, but that cross-check needs to be called.
Things just weren’t going to go the Bolts’ way tonight. Wellwood potted his 10th of the season to win the game for the Jets, ending the Lightning’s five game win streak.
So unfortunately, the Lightning didn’t walk out of tonight’s tilt with two points. The effort was there, the resilience was there but the goal total wasn’t. Tonight’s game was yet another example of a game that the Bolts deserved to win, but didn’t. Over the course of a season, these things have a tendency to even themselves out. Let’s hope that’s the case.
The Florida Panthers to town leading the Southeast Division with 57 points compared to the Lightning’s 49. A victory against the Panthers is vital if the Lightning are really looking at the playoffs as a possibility. I’ll have my pre-game report up for that one tomorrow at some point. Also in my next blog, I’ll take a look at the 25 most available players (according to The Fourth Period) and talk about the ones linked to the Lightning.
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