On the heels of an important victory over the Buffalo Sabres the night before, the Tampa Bay Lightning (20-20-4) came into their Friday night contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets (29-8-4) at Amalie Arena preparing for an emotional evening. As if having the team with the best record in the NHL wasn’t enough, the Lightning also honored former captain Marty St. Louis by retiring the number 26 he wore during his 13-plus seasons in Tampa Bay. St Louis is the first player to have his jersey number retired by the Lightning. The ceremony itself was emotional, heartwarming, heart-wrenching, and wonderful all at once. The Lightning looked like they were going to build off of that positive energy, especially after taking the ice for pregame warmups wearing throwback jerseys featuring St. Louis’ now retired #26.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, the Blue Jackets, led by former Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella, had other ideas. They ended up spoiling the party after Torts was one of the speakers at the ceremony. And yet again, the Lightning came away empty-handed when they desperately needed points.
A Nick Foligno power play goal in the third period was the difference as the Blue Jackets handed the Lightning their fifth loss in their last six contests, this one by a 3-1 score. Jonathan Drouin notched the lone goal for the Bolts, while Andrei Vasilevskiy finished with 28 saves.
The Lightning seemed to carry over the emotion from the pregame festivities, as they played one of their best opening periods of the season, out-shooting the Blue Jackets 19-6 and taking a 1-0 lead into the intermission thanks to Drouin’s 13th goal of the season. Drouin was camped out to the right of Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo, where Valtteri Filppula found him with a beautiful pass. Korpisalo, who finished with 31 saves, got a piece of Drouin’s one-timer, but the puck was able to sneak through underneath him, giving the Bolts the game’s opening goal for only the 17th time in 44 games this season. Palat also picked up an assist on the goal at the 16:18 mark when he started the play off by stealing the puck. It was the culmination of an energetic and emotional 20 minutes for the Bolts, as they had more jump, more energy, and created scoring chances in spades. What was also a chippy period boiled over with 2:14 left on the clock, as Alex Killorn got into a fight with the Jackets’ Josh Anderson. Killorn clearly lost the fight, but drew an extra roughing penalty in the process that gave the Lightning a late power play they were unable to take advantage of.
For as good as the Bolts were in the opening 20 minutes, it was the Blue Jackets who slowly began to build momentum back up in the second period, owning a 16-7 shot advantage on Tampa Bay in the middle frame. But when the Lightning got their chances in this period, they were high-quality opportunities. Victor Hedman off the post about a minute into the period. Michael Bournival with a deflection of a Nikita Nesterov shot that came within inches of giving the Bolts a 2-0 lead. A couple of great chances for Brian Boyle. However, Columbus kept chipping away with shot after shot, and with 3:20 remaining in the period, it was Anderson who benefited from a strange bounce in picking up his 10th goal of the season, tying the game 1-1. David Savard kept the puck in the zone near the point and put a shot on net that bounced off Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn and bounced over Vasilevskiy. Anderson was there to hack at the puck and put it into the net.
Early in the third period, the Lightning caught a break when the Jackets hit a post, but that good fortune wouldn’t last long, as Tyler Johnson was called for holding at the 3:55 mark of the period. And it didn’t take long for Columbus’s #1 ranked power play unit to make Tampa Bay pay, as Foligno tallied his 15th goal of the season 34 seconds later. Alexander Wennberg had the puck in the right circle before dishing it back to Zach Werenski at the point. Werenski fired a shot that was stopped by Vasilevskiy, leading to a big rebound that Foligno swept into the net after being parked in front. The Lightning would find themselves with a few more solid looks at the Blue Jackets’ net as the period went on, including a hard wrist shot from Drouin in the slot that Korpisalo deftly knocked away with his blocker. Tampa Bay continued to press, but Columbus did a tremendous job of having guys in shooting lanes. The Lightning took what was nearly a costly too many men on the ice penalty with 7:49 left, but they were able to kill it off despite being stuck in the zone for much of the power play. With 3:54 left, Jack Johnson of the Blue Jackets got whistled for slashing, giving the Lightning a critical power play chance of their own. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay and the fans at Amalie Arena, they did absolutely nothing with it, even after pulling Vasilevskiy with about 1:45 remaining. Soon after the power play ended, Boone Jenner cleared the puck down the ice, hitting the back of a yawning cage to put the final bow on this game, sending the home crowd disappointed after such an emotional number retirement for St. Louis.
The Lightning begin a six-game road trip on Monday night when they travel out to Los Angeles to take on the Kings in a Martin Luther King Day matinee at the Staples Center. Puck drops at 4 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Joonas Korpisalo – The Blue Jackets’ backup goalie finished with 31 saves in a rare start in place of All-Star Sergei Bobrovksy.
2nd Star: Nick Foligno – Columbus’s captain tallied the game-winner on a power play 4:29 into the final period. Finished with four shots on goal.
3rd Star: Jonathan Drouin – Scored the lone goal of the game for the Bolts, finishing with 5 shots on goal in 17:18 of ice time.