The last time the Lightning were victorious was on March 14th in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. The win amounts to the Lightning's third victory for the entire month (even though the team has been generating points by going to overtime or the shootout in losses against just about everyone this month).
But we're not talking loss here, we're talking victory. A much-needed victory that lowers the Bolts magic number to 4. 4 points (via victories or Carolina Hurricane loses) will seal the team's first playoff berth since 2006-07.
So, just what happened? Who scored? How did they look? We've got it all below the jump.
Dwayne Roloson was not going to be between the pipes tonight, not after facing 39 shots during the team's loss to the Hurricanes on the previous night. This set the stage for Mike Smith to start in net for the first time since March 12th in Sunrise (and only the 3rd time since December 18th). That may have led to fans writing off this game from the onset, but that wasn't what should have happened.
Smitty faced 35 shots on goal, turning away all but two of them. Eric Cole had his hand in both tallies for the Hurricanes, one directly and one-indirectly. The indirect aspect, which opened scoring, was playing the part of the screener during a Carolina power play in the first period. Replay would show Smith struggling to gain a view of the puck and being out of position for Eric Staal's power-play goal.
But just when you thought the Bolts weren't going to show up, they made their presence felt.
Martin St. Louis, line jumped all night and started on a line with Vincent Lecavalier, without Steven Stamkos on the opposing wing. Lecavalier and St. Louis broke into the Hurricane zone late during another Carolina power play opportunity.
It didn't even seem fair.
Lecavalier swooped in from the right side as time expired on the Bolts penalty, taking the focus of Carolina netminder Cam Ward. Lecavalier passed off to St. Louis, who was swooping in from the high slot, and beat Ward easily, tying the game at 1.
St. Louis would see time on line-combos with Dominic Moore and Sean Bergenheim, as well as Lecavalier, before being returned to the side of Steven Stamkos.
A few minutes later, a crazy turn of events actually had the Lightning picking up a score from a turnover at the blue line. Simon Gagne swiped the puck from Joe Corvo at the Canes blue line and drove to the crease, slipping it past Cam Ward with ease and giving the Bolts a 2-1 lead.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Lightning game without giving up the lead (sorry, have to point that out - has happened too much of recent) and Eric Cole brought it back to even just before the close of the first period.
By the second period, the game fell into monotony. Two teams playing the second game in a row will do that. The biggest of the 2nd period (besides Smith saving the Bolts several times) was the team getting their first power play opportunity at 16:28 of the 2nd period. translated: The Bolts did not get the man-advantage until 3:32 remained in the 2nd.
Fortunately, Dominic Moore converted and the Lightning took a 3-2 lead.
By the third, both teams were on the verge of falling apart. Opportunities fell both ways, and recklessness and carelessness also started to rear its head. Both teams faded, faded, faded, faded...
And the Bolts entered a dangerous time -- the final 10 minutes of the game where they don't seem to be able to hold a lead for the life of them... A flurry of attacks by Carolina, turned away by Smith. Failures to clear the zone, with saves by Smith to stop the bleeding. You worried, you twisted, but ultimately Smith had this thing.
And then the end came. Not that final horn, not yet, but Simon Gagne netting his second goal of the night by shooting from center ice on an empty Carolina net and scoring.
In the end, Tampa Bay outlasted the Hurricanes. I don't know if things are turning around here... But in exhaustion, I would assume there is less thought going on. There's the need to do, and nothing else matters. Maybe it's the lesson that both Guy Boucher and the Bolts need to take from this?
Full game highlights:
NOTE: As of this writing, Corey Perry has tied Steven Stamkos for the league lead in goals with 43. The Anaheim/Chicago match-up is still ongoing as I write this.
Up Next: The Lightning (40-24-11) will be off until Tuesday, March 29th when they begin the final true homestand (two games) against the Ottawa Senators at the St. Pete Times Forum. Game starts at 7:30 PM, and as per usual we will have the Raw Charge game thread live and taking requests at 7 PM EDIT. Hope to see you then.
Hurricanes vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]
Hurricanes vs Lightning box score [TSN]