Throughout this season, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has gone head-to-head with linemate Nikita Kucherov for the top spot in the NHL scoring race. However, he hasn’t found the back of the net as often as we’ve become accustomed to seeing.
In the first game following the Christmas break, Stamkos reminded everyone why he’s been one of the best goal-scorers. Behind his two goals, a Brayden Point goal, and 31 saves by Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning (27-7-2) bested the Montreal Canadiens (16-18-4) by a 3-1 score at Amalie Arena. The victory marked the third straight for the Lightning overall and eighth in a row on home ice. The first meeting of the season between these division rivals was hyped as the return of Jonathan Drouin to Tampa as well as the first on-ice matchup between Drouin and Bolts defenseman Mikhail Sergachev since the blockbuster deal last June that saw them traded for each other. Early on, however, it was Vasilevskiy and Montreal goaltender Carey Price who stole the show.
Both goaltenders showed why they are among the best in the world in the opening period.
The shot total of 14-13 in favor of Tampa Bay in the opening period doesn’t tell the whole story, as the Lightning roared off to an 11-1 lead in shots seven minutes in. An early Bolts power play saw them generate multiple quality chances, with Price holding the fort. After that power play ended, Price made a fantastic save on Alex Killorn off a redirection in close. However, the Canadiens settled down and began tilting the ice back in their favor as the period continued.
As a result, Vasilevskiy matched Price’s effort, making multiple dazzling saves. Among them was a sliding stop on a Daniel Carr one-timer from the left circle during a power play. He also denied Jeff Petry after the Montreal defenseman undressed Jake Dotchin off a rush. The Lightning’s star goalie also caught a break as a Karl Alzner shot rattled off both posts, ricocheting out of danger. Sergachev nearly scored on his former team, deking out Arturi Lehkonen at the Lightning blue line and creating a shot that Price knocked away.
In a game where goals would be at a premium, it was a deflection that put Montreal on the board first.
With Andrej Sustr in the penalty box for high sticking, the Canadiens cashed in when Brendan Gallagher tipped a Charles Hudon shot past Vasilevskiy for a 1-0 lead at the 3:40 mark. Although there may have been minimal contact between Gallagher and Vasilevskiy, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper chose not to challenge what would be Gallagher’s 15th goal of the season.
As good as Price had been up to this point, he also got help from his posts, as Stamkos and Ondrej Palat struck iron despite getting excellent looks at the net. Killorn got robbed again by Price halfway through the period on a rebound at the tail end of a power play.
The remainder of the second period was a tight-checking affair until Kucherov and Stamkos worked their magic.
As the final seconds ticked down until the intermission, Kucherov raced down the ice to beat a Montreal defender to negate an icing call. As he got the puck, he backhanded a no-look pass to Stamkos. The Lightning captain was open as he flew down the middle of the ice, firing home a shot past Price with just under 12 seconds left in the period, tying the game 1-1. Stamkos’s 14th of the year sent the crowd into a frenzy and gave the Lightning some much-needed momentum heading into the third period. Stamkos spoke highly of his chemistry with Kucherov when asked about his tying goal and whether or not he called for the puck.
“I didn’t say a word. I knew that he knew that he knew that I was there,” joked Stamkos. “That’s the thing with Kuch and the chemistry that we’ve developed. We don’t need to draw attention to ourselves by yelling on the ice. We know where we are.”
There’s a saying that the worst times to give up a goal are the first and last minute of a period. The Lightning came out on the positive end of both of those outcomes.
It was clear that Stamkos’s first goal was a major momentum shifter. That proved to be even more true 30 seconds into the final period. Following a wild scramble in front, Point found the puck near the crease beat Price for his 15th goal of the season. The Lightning held a 2-1 lead and found themselves on a power play at the 3:01 mark thanks to a holding penalty on Nicolas Deslauriers. During the ensuing man advantage, Montreal’s Max Pacioretty got whistled for hooking shortly after Killorn hit the post, giving the Lightning a 5-on-3 opportunity.
Palat nearly lost control of the puck, but recovered and found Vlad Namestnikov in the slot. Namestnikov calmly slid the puck over to Stamkos, who one-timed it past Price for his 15th of the season and a 3-1 Bolts lead at 4:35 that they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Lightning close out their four-game homestand with the second half of back-to-back games, as they host the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night at 7:30 pm.
-Kucherov still leads the NHL with 52 points, while Stamkos is fourth with 47.
-Sergachev finished plus-1 with two shots on goal in 18:49 of ice time against his old team.
-Drouin ended the night a minus-1 with three shots on goal in 16:55 of ice time. He received some boos from the Lightning faithful, but nothing substantial.
-The Lightning finished 1-for-6 on the power play after they ended their previous game against Minnesota 0-for-6.
-The Lightning’s eight-game home winning streak is the second-longest in team history. The team record is nine in a row from January 2-February 12, 2016.
-Tampa Bay is now 5-1-0 this season in the first half of back-to-back games.
My Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Steven Stamkos – The Lightning captain scored twice, including the tying goal with under 12 seconds left in the second period.
2nd Star: Brayden Point – Notched the game-winning goal 30 seconds into the third period.
3rd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Finished the night with 31 saves and helped the Lighting ride through a rough stretch late in the first period.
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