Every night seems the same.
The Tampa Bay Lightning jump out of the gate and look good early; they build a lead, maintain it, even extend it occasionally. Without fail, however, the opposing team comes storming back and the Bolts are forced to just hang on for a win.
It's something that's going to have to be fixed eventually. For now, Jon Cooper and the Lightning will take the two points and not over-analyze what has become a pervasive problem.
The Bolts rewarded head coach Jon Cooper's decision to stick Teddy Purcell with Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson on an all right-shot line versus the Sens, as Purcell took a pass from Victor "Norris" Hedman less than a minute in, and fired a rocket one-timer past Sens netminder Robin Lehner from the slot for a 1-0 lead not even a minute into the game.
That's when the referees got involved, calling the first of seven minor penalties of the period, sending the Bolts to the man advantage with a chance to expand on the lead. Unfortunately, it was the Sens who struck on special teams. Sami Salo misplayed the puck while flatfooted at center ice, sending Clarke MacArthur alone on a breakaway for a 5-hole goal past Ben Bishop to tie it at 10:44.
However the Bolts quickly regained the lead just after that same power play. Teddy Purcell scored his second of the night in front after busting back to break up another rush, sending the Lightning the other way. He then buried his own rebound in front of the net to put the Bolts back ahead 2-1.
The whistle party didn't stop, though, as Nate Thompson went to the box for an offensive zone tripping call. Of the ensuing faceoff, Erik Karlsson blasted a one-timer behind Bishop to tie the game at 13:07.
Just when it looked like the zebras were going to let the players start actually playing, the sixth penalty of the period came down, and the fourth against Ottawa, with 53 seconds left and a chance for Tampa Bay to pull ahead.
Instead, the 7th penalty of the period was called on Ryan Callahan. He went to the box for a goaltender interference call after Jared Cowen dropped him on Robin Lehner. Neither team scored on the brief 4v4 play, however, and that's where the first period ended.
With the special teams play continuing in the second period, Valterri "Filthy Mitts" Filppula make a few nice dekes on a solo power play entry, feeding the puck to Ondrej Palat for a shot from the wing. The rebound ended up sitting in the crease where a crashing Filppula put it away to restore a lead for the Lightning.
That lead, like many over the past few games for the Bolts, wouldn't last. Alex Hemsky, acquired from the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline for a 3rd round pick and a 5th round pick, undressed Matt Carle, Radko Gudas and Ben Bishop for a seemingly effortless one-man goal to tie it 3-3 at 17:32. That score would hold through the end of the middle frame.
Early in the third, J.T. Brown collected a loose puck in the neutral zone and broke in on Erik Karlsson. Holding inside the Ottawa zone, he hesitated and found a trailing Eric Brewer, who lifted a beauty of a backhander top-shelf to once again give the Lightning the lead.
Like the night before in Toronto, the lead put Tampa Bay into a bit of a defensive shell, playing very conservatively and not forcing the puck up ice. Their only real offense in the third came either in transition or on the power play. After a boneheaded slashing call to Zack Smith on Ryan Callahan, the Lightning went to the power play, where Callahan snapped a one timer from distance behind Lehner to extend the Lightning lead to 5-3.
Not to disappoint, the Lightning went ahead with their usual late game collapse, forced again to merely hold on for dear life when Erik Karlsson's blast from the center point was redirected in by Milan Michalek to bring the Sens within a goal at 5-4. The Sens attack was relentless throughout much of the third, but got ratcheted up a notch following that tally; Ben Bishop held on, making just 11 saves in the third but a few terrific stops on good looks from a high-scoring area.
- The win puts the Lightning firmly in second place in the Atlantic, two points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens (who lost in regulation to the Columbus Blue Jackets) and with a game in hand.
- The shots on goal totals for this game make it seem fairly even -- Ottawa led in that category 31-28. But the Sens attempted 61 shots, while Tampa Bay attempts only 37. There's no doubt that the Sens controlled the puck at 5v5, relegating Tampa Bay to only creating offense on the rush and on their numerous power plays.
- Speaking of which, the power play has (as expected) been pretty good since adding Steven Stamkos back into the lineup. Puck movement was crisp and entries were good, and the Bolts were getting good 5v4 scoring chances with regularity. Both Filppula and Callahan converted as the power play went 2/6 for the game.
- Victor Hedman added two more assists (both at 5v5) adding to his already impressive even-strength offense resume. If he had got any power play time at all early in the year, guys like Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith wouldn't be ahead in the overall point totals and Hedman would have a legitimate shot at the Norris Trophy. He's a deserving candidate, but I don't see the PHWA recognizing it.