Over the course of this season, the only thing we can say for certain about the Tampa Bay Lightning is how consistently inconsistent they are from game-to-game and period-to-period. Friday night’s contest in Vancouver was a perfect example of that, as the Lightning balanced out skillful goals with baffling turnovers, poor defensive play, and costly errors.
Bo Horvat’s power play goal at the 7:46 mark of the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and powered the Vancouver Canucks (13-16-2) to a 4-2 victory over the Lightning at Rodgers Arena in Vancouver, as they swept the season series from the Bolts with two wins in the span of nine days. The Lightning (15-14-2) are now 3-8-1 in their last 12 games, and have not won back-to-back games in over a month. Tampa Bay was also playing without Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Ryan Callahan, who were all out with various injuries.
Horvat’s eventual game-winner came off a strange play, as Loui Eriksson dumped the puck in from center ice, where it bounced off Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, changed directions, and flew right towards Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was expecting the puck to go into the corner and around the boards. Vasilevskiy, who turned aside 20 of 23 shots, was able to make the save, but kicked a huge rebound into the high slot, where Horvat was wide open and rifled home his ninth goal of the season. It was also the 13th power play goal the Bolts have allowed in their last 12 games.
On a night when the Canucks inducted former Vancouver and Tampa Bay defenseman Mattias Ohlund into their ring of honor, it was Hedman, a guy that Ohlund mentored during his time in Tampa, that opened the scoring. Despite a dominant start by Vancouver in which they had a power play goal overturned due to being offside, the Lightning went up 1-0 when Brian Boyle won a faceoff and got the puck to Valtteri Filppula. Filppula drew Canucks defenders to him before threading a beautiful pass to Hedman, who crept in through the back door and buried a shot past Vancouver goalie Ryan Miller for his sixth of the season. The Lightning controlled play for much of the opening period, as they turned a 7-2 deficit in shots on goal into an 11-9 edge in that department heading into the intermission.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, they were unable to maintain that momentum into the second period, as the Canucks tied the game just 1:37 into the stanza. Bolts defenseman Slater Koekkoek committed the first of several Lightning errors in this game, as he turned the puck over along the near side boards, where Loui Eriksson took it and got it to Markus Granlund. Granlund found Brandon Sutter moving into the high slot. Sutter ripped a one-timer that Vasilevskiy got a piece of, but it went through him, giving Sutter his eighth of the year, one that Vasilevskiy would’ve liked to have back. Vancouver would take the lead for the first time when defenseman Luca Sbisa scored his first goal of the season. Sbisa had the puck near the far wall and got it back to the point to Alex Burrows before pinching back up. Burrows launched a shot from the point that Vasilevskiy stopped, but he left another rebound out in front. Vlad Namestnikov, lost track of Sbisa, who was left open and deposited the rebound into the net to put the Canucks up 2-1, capping off a period in which the Lightning were largely outplayed after controlling play in the opening 20 minutes.
Early in the third period, the Bolts’ JT Brown drew a tripping penalty that led to him crashing into the net. The physical sacrifice worked out in the Lightning’s favor, as Jonathan Drouin controlled the puck after Hedman kept it in the zone. Drouin then fired a pass into the slot for Cory Conacher, who patiently waited out Miller before picking a corner and scoring a power play goal to tie the game at the 3:53 mark. It was Conacher’s first NHL goal since October 11, 2014 as a member of the New York Islanders. Tampa Bay would build up momentum and had a couple of great scoring chances, one of them on a nice drop pass from Drouin to Hedman, but Miller turned it aside. Miller finished with 25 saves. Soon after, Horvat got the eventual game-winner, and even though the Lightning had a couple more good looks in the second half of the final period, they never threatened in the minutes before and after pulling Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker with just under 2 minutes left. Following a Drouin turnover, Burrows sealed the deal with an empty net goal with just under 47 minutes left to make the score 4-2.
Tampa Bay concludes their three-game trip through Western Canada on Saturday night when they visit Rodgers Place for a contest with the Edmonton Oilers. Puck drops at 10 pm.
MY THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Bo Horvat – Scored the game-winning goal, added an assist, and finished plus-2
2nd Star: Victor Hedman – Tallied the game’s opening goal, had an assist, was plus-2, and led the Lightning with six shots on goal.
3rd Star: Luca Sbisa – Scored his first goal of the season in the second period, putting the Canucks up 2-1. Finished plus-2.
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