The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night, but the overall effort by the Lightning made the game one of the most disapproving wins to watch; where the team effort would have handed this game to any other opponent.
A torrid pace and effort started things off and team captain Vincent Lecavalier capitalized to make it 1-0 early on. It was mere seconds after that when the Lightning to regressed back into the hot mess they have been for much of the past few weeks - giving the Panthers carte blanche with the puck, rushing toward the Panthers zone but turning the puck over in the process.
The Bolts gave the Panthers nearly four consecutive minutes of power play time midway through the opening period, as Sami Salo went to the box for hooking and Alex Killorn followed him some two minutes and twelve seconds later with a delay-of-game penalty.
Fortunately, the Bolts weathered this storm (and with help of the Panthers anemic power play).
The one thing working to the Lightning's advantage was Anders Lindback. The maligned 24-year-old goaltender stopped all 17 shots he faced during the opening frame. It's not like the effort in front of Lindback didn't attempt to screw him, but for at least the first period - he stood on his head.
Martin St. Louis added his 7th goal on the season with 2:12 left to play in the first. The trio of St. Louis, Lecavalier and rookie Alex Killorn had hit pay dirt for the second time. These weren't' fluke goals allowed by rookie backstop Jacob Markstrom either; St. Louis, Lecavalier and Killorn worked to get tally these scores.
Mustering two goals is nice, but two goals on three total shots for the first period is unacceptable. Their last 2 periods of play up to that point (which includes the 3rd period of Saturday's loss to Montreal) had seen them outshot 30-5.
The second period began and nearly immediately Kris Versteeg and Marcel Goc worked around the Bolts net and capitalized, putting the Cats on the board with their 18th shot on goal for the night.
Much of the first 10 minutes of the second period were spent in the Lightning's own zone, or with the puck sent back into the Lightning's zone via a neutral zone turnover. And while the team seemed to be off kilter and erratic to say the least, a line combo appearing in the 2nd that featured the NHL's number-one goal scorer reflected it.
I mean, really... Steven Stamkos centering B.J. Crombeen and Marc-Andre Bergeron? Is there an issue that no one is talking about regarding key players not playing responsibly two-way? I mean, sure, I've mentioned it, and it's been noted about how puck possession isn't seen as vital by the members of the Lightning roster but is Stamkos guilty of floating or some such that would require him to work a lower line role?
[Note by John Fontana, 03/13/13 10:08 AM EDT ] I believe I should remark here that at the time I wrote this, I wasn't aware of Tom Pyatt's injury sustained last night. This would explain Stamkos playing with Crombeen and Bergeron -- double shifting with thanks to being down two forwards (skating only 11 to begin with and then losing one to injury). That's a slip-up on my part.
With 8:36 left in the second period, the Cats decided to make a game of things and tied the score at two with Tomas Kopecky scoring on a wrist shot from between the crease and the lower faceoff circle. At this point, the Panthers were outshooting the Lightning 9-1 on the period and ended the first 40 minutes of play with 29 shots to the Bolts paltry 6.
Things started out relatively the same in the 3rd period - just brutal to watch. Lots of Panthers effort and little Lightning resolved. It changed as suddenly as a line change. Exactly as a line change.
Steven Stamkos jumped the boards to take a shift, and grabbed the loose puck, racing into the Florida zone and not only getting a shot on goal but drew a penalty from Erik Gudbranson. 2 minutes, tripping.
Stamkos, the great sage and imminent goal-scorer, didn't need two minutes to hit pay dirt on the man-advantage, giving the Lightning back the lead with an unassisted wrist shot with 14:30 left to play. That was #20 on the season for Stamkos.
A short time later, Radko Gudas made his presence known to the NHL. It wasn't the most powerful hit, and seemed to be an erroneous hip-check that instead caught Kris Versteeg's knee, but it would seem Gudas may have ended Versteeg's season with the check, which sent Versteeg flailing before curling up in a ball on the ice in pain. It wasn't dirty or with malicious intent (a rookie, in his first NHL game, hunting to hurt a veteran? Come on now...); the result was bad though. No penalty was called.
Once the lead was had, the Tampa Bay effort turned to the Anders Lindback show, he had to hold the line (because the Bolts weren't putting pressure on Markstrom, that was for sure), and hold the line he did, including a great stop of a Shawn Matthias one-on-one attempt with under 4 minutes to play in the game.
While the Bolts held on to win and stay out of the NHL cellar, this game was the epitome of an ugly win. Allowing 39 shots total while mustering 13 is unacceptable and speaks volumes of how poor the team is playing. For all of the crap that Anders Lindback has gotten - being made a scapegoat for Lightning ills - this game was a testament that it's not all on him.
The Lightning head back to Tampa for the next three games before taking their show on the road to the great white north of Canada. The next opponent is the Isles at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday.