Welcome to the National Hockey League, Dustin Tokarski. It was a big night for everyone on the ice tonight as the Tampa Bay Lightning took on the Washington Capitals. With two points up for grabs in the ever-tight Eastern Conference playoff race, the Lightning needed a good performance. Trailing the Capitals by two points heading into the tilt, the Lightning had a great opportunity to make up some ground. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The Lightning ended up losing to the Capitals in a game that was incredibly interesting to watch. Luckily, the Bolts did acquire one point by virtue of making it to the overtime period. As per usual, here’re the game summary and post-game thoughts.
When visiting the Verizon Center in Washington, visiting teams know that they are going to be peppered early on. It’s hard to beat the atmosphere created by the sea of red in that building. Like they expected, the Bolts were peppered hard by the Capitals to start the game. Tokarski was incredibly busy in the early going making five saves to keep the Bolts in this one. The first period was one with very little action. It wasn’t until Eric Brewer took a tripping penalty with five minutes to go in the period that things became interesting. Although the Bolts were able to kill off the Brewer call, the Capitals generated momentum that would ultimately turn into one of the most unusual goals there’s been all year. With 2:52 remaining in the first period, Alzner would shoot the puck from the point. The shot was going feet wide of the net but it hit Aucoin’s heel and deflected past Tokarski for his 2nd of the year. The first period concluded with the Capitals leading 1-0.
About seven minutes into the second period, opportunity came knocking for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dennis Wideman would be sent off for boarding JT Wyman giving the Bolts a powerplay. Despite the PP’s struggles all season, it’s actually pretty hot right now. The early puck movement in the Caps’ zone is what allowed Malone to score his 12th of the season from Stamkos and Purcell. How good are these guys? They manage to find open players in scoring position nearly every time they are on the ice; it’s positively great to watch.
Later in the second period, Mike Green made a cheap hit on Brett Connolly. I don’t necessarily want to beat this one to death (because it already has been on Twitter), but that’s the hit the NHL needs to get out of the game. There is a line, and Mike Green crossed it tonight. Connolly went off to the quiet room but thankfully he was able to return later that period.
Things would get even better for the Lightning as with 2:15 left in the second, Purcell would draw a tripping penalty simply by moving his feet. Over the past little while, the Bolts have had a great deal of trouble drawing penalties. Teddy Purcell gave the coaching staff some great educational footage tonight; the way to draw penalties in today’s NHL is to skate. The Lightning would strike on the PP once again with Purcell reaching the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career. How hot is the big line right now? As mentioned, everyone gets in on the offense. The second period ended with the Bolts leading 2-1.
The third period was a downright disaster for the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the NHL, no lead is safe. At any level of hockey, a one goal lead is never safe. Could somebody please forward that message to the Lightning players? The Bolts sat back, and watched the Capitals absolutely challenge Tokarski. Had it not been for him in that third period, this game could have been over a lot sooner. The relentless puck pressure of the Capitals would pay off as Johansson scored his 13th of the season to tie the game up at one. After allowing the goal, the Lightning actually generated some pressure towards the end of regulation. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.
If you didn’t think Tokarski deserved his first NHL victory in his first NHL start at the end of regulation, the save he made off Alexander Semin midway through OT probably changed your mind. How a guy who is so small covers so much of the net is beyond me. He robbed Semin of a sure-goal to keep the Bolts in sudden death OT. Unfortunately, the sleeping giant, Alexander Ovechkin, would end the game with a quick shot from the faceoff circle. He was left relatively uncovered and was able to put the puck past Tokarski giving the Capitals two much needed points.
* Tokarski was very calm, cool and collected all night long. Considering the mighty struggles that have plagued Dwayne Roloson all season, there is no reason for Tokarski not to start the majority of the games down the stretch. Simply put, he gave the team a chance to win tonight. It’s unfortunate that the boys up front failed to generate anything in that third period. Tokarski deserved the victory. As mentioned, he covers a lot of the net for a small guy. With more NHL experience, he will certainly get more comfortable down the stretch.
* Brett Connolly looks like a totally different player right now; he’s a man possessed. It’s only a matter of time before the offense starts going for him. Once again, Connolly was buzzing all night long. The increased confidence he is getting from the coaching staff has definitely revitalized his game. This kid is going to be a BIG TIME NHLer one day very soon.
* Since the departure of Dominic Moore, one player has really stepped up his game; that player would be Adam Hall. With his increased role, Hall has definitely improved. One thing I noted early in the game was how much faster he seems to be. Hall is able to generate scoring chances by being quick on his feet. Also, his transition game has really improved. So, who was that guy who used to play with us? Great work, Adam.
* Victor Hedman looked MUCH better tonight. In fact, he looked like a different player. When he’s in the line-up, this is a better team. He’s so big, strong and dominant that it’s hard for opposing players to take the puck off his stick. Some of the subtle defensive plays he made tonight were magic. With him in the line-up down the stretch, there’s no reason to think this team can’t make the playoffs.
* One thing that concerned me all night was the lack of killer instinct. Up 2-1, the Bolts should have played to put the Capitals away. Instead, the team sat back and just let the Caps right into the zone. That is not the way to win hockey games. Early in the season, Guy Boucher employed the 1-3-1 tactic. For those of you who have been reading my blogs for a while, you know that I was pretty adamant in my defense of that scheme. Sorry, Guy, but I can’t defend the 0-0-5.
* It’s really a shame that the Bolts didn’t manage to win this one in regulation. The Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres both lost in regulation earlier tonight. Also, the Winnipeg Jets are taking on the Vancouver Canucks. This could have been a great night for Bolts Nation. Luckily, the Bolts didn’t really lose any ground today.
Thanks for reading, folks! Hope you had a great day. I’ll be back with pre-game blogs as the week continues. We need WINS!
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