With two games left in the 2016-17 NHL season, the Tampa Bay Lightning (40-30-10, 90 pts) trail the Toronto Maple Leafs (39-26-15, 93 pts) by three points. To earn a playoff ticket, the Lightning will need to win their two remaining games while the Maple Leafs have to lose theirs. It’s a tall task, but all you can do is focus on what you can control and for that tonight it’s to beat the Atlantic Division champion Montreal Canadiens (46-25-9, 101 pts). Could the Bolts take out another division rival and stay alive? Let’s reminisce on the action with a recap.
The Lightning came out against the Canadiens as a team with their season on the line should… desperate. They were awarded an early power play opportunity, as former Bolt Nikita Nesterov was whistled for cross-checking at 1:30. Unable to score on the attempt, the Lightning did formulate some impressive looks, but Montreal goaltender Carey Price was able to stand tall and keep it scoreless. Tampa Bay would continue to build on their momentum and apply pressure in the Canadiens’ zone, but couldn’t solve the Rubik’s cube that was Montreal’s goaltender.
That was until Lightning forward and leading scorer Nikita Kucherov barreled into the Canadiens’ zone and fired a shot off the goal post. Luckily, Tampa Bay rookie Yanni Gourde was at the right place at the right time and buried the rebound past Price to draw first blood. The Bolts flirted with Montreal in their own zone a tad too many times for comfort, but would soon bounce back. With seconds left in the period, Kucherov would snipe his 40th of the season off a well-timed breakaway to give the Bolts a two-goal lead heading into the locker room.
Montreal came out to start the second with a chip on their shoulder. They were bested in the first period by a team below them in the standings and you could tell it left a sour taste in their mouth. The Bolts however, didn’t care. They continued their ruthless attack and superb defense. The Canadiens’ were given a man advantage as Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat was called for interference, but the Lightning killed their power play with a purpose.
The Canadiens would not give up and eventually it paid off in dramatic fashion. Taking a page from the Lightning’s playbook, Montreal caught Tampa Bay napping and fed forward Dwight King on a breakaway. All alone with Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, King beat him through the five-hole and bring his team within one of a tie game. Tampa Bay however would not be bottled up, as forward Alex Killorn outraced Montreal’s Brandon Davidson and chipped one in to make it 3-1 moments later.
The fireworks would not cease in the third, as Montreal would get another power play chance early as Tampa Bay’s Jake Dotchin hustled to impede a Paul Byron breakaway. Unfortunately, the rookie had to trip the attacking forward, earning himself a trip to the sin bin. The Lightning would once again kill the man advantage with skill and be rewarded with a power play of their own. This would lead to a goal, but not for the Bolts. Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen kept the puck in the offensive zone and fluttered one past Vasilevskiy off a lucky deflection.
Tampa Bay were determined to not let their foes back in this game and responded 21 seconds later with a second goal from Gourde to make it 4-2. Defenseman Braydon Coburn decided to make it a tad harder for the away team as he was whistled for delay of game at 10:32. The Lightning would once again defend the Canadiens’ power play, but did so off a brilliant Vasilevskiy save that was one of the best of the young goaltender’s career. Tampa Bay would be shorthanded for a fourth and final time with 2:07 left in the game as Montreal decided to pull their goaltender and make it six-on-four for two minutes. The dust settled and Tampa Bay earned a 4-2 victory over the Canadiens.
Having done their part, the Lightning put their hopes in the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who face the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night. With a loss by Toronto, the Lightning could have quite a finish to their season on Sunday.
Ah, ha, ha, ha stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Three Stars of The Game:
- Yanni Gourde, Two goals
- Andrei Vasilevskiy, 27 saves for the win, several key saves throughout the night
- Nikita Kucherov, One goal and one assist
Next up: Tampa Bay Lightning (41-30-10) vs. Buffalo Sabres (33-35-12) on Sunday afternoon at 5pm at Amalie Arena in Tampa.