In an 82-game grind of a season, every team is bound to have some weird outcomes.
File Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs under the "good process, bad result" header, as the Lightning had sustained offensive pressure on the Leafs for much of the evening but only beat Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier twice en route to their first regulation loss this season to an Atlantic Division opponent not named the Boston Bruins.
The first period saw mostly what we expected in a match-up featuring these new Atlantic Division rivals: the Lightning controlling the puck at 5v5. The Leafs, however, drew the Bolts into three consecutive first period penalties -- the latter two of the questionable variety -- sending their 3rd ranked power play onto the ice to try and give them a lead at home and keep the superior even strength team off the ice.
The Bolts, who have lately been mired in a penalty-killing slump, surely spent some time over the last two off days working on the kill, as the Lightning looked much better in denying clean entry, clearing rebounds, and getting in shooting and passing lanes in killing off all three man advantages for the Leafs. The Lightning even managed a few quality scoring chances of their own while shorthanded and outshot the Leafs 11-8 in the first twenty minutes as both goaltenders stopped everything they faced and the first period ended in a scoreless tie.
The Maple Leafs struck first in a busy second period when Nazem Kadri scored an unassisted goal off a neutral zone misplay by the Lightning that sent Kadri in against Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman 1-on-1. Kadri used Hedman as a screen and snapped a hard wrist shot over Bishop to give Toronto the 1-0 lead. He later extended that lead to 2-0 on an amazing display of stickhandling in tight through the slot, once again victimizing Hedman and finishing off the play with slick backhand shelf shot that Bishop had zero chance to stop.
Facing a 2-0 deficit due to a few breakdowns, the Lightning continued to press their 5v5 advantage and drew three penalties on the Leafs in the middle frame. They all came up empty, but Matt Carle scored just as the first one expired with an assist to Ondrej Palat off a nice drop pass in the slot to make it 2-1. The Lightning didn't convert on either of their other two opportunities, but were relentless in their puck pursuit and retrieval and exposed the Leafs deficiencies on the back end, creating a lot of zone time and shots on Bernier. They finally broke through on a net-front scramble with Palat tipping the puck over to the side of the net for Mark Barberio to slam home, tying the game 2-2.
Both teams played fairly conservatively in the third period, as the importance of the overtime point is quite obvious in a very crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture. That didn't stop some loose, back-and-forth play, however. The Leafs had a couple of very good scoring chances, including a Phil Kessel breakaway barely five minutes into the third period, which started with a terrific off-the-boards breakout pass from Dion Phaneuf. Kessel opted for a quick snap shot from the right wing while speeding down on Bishop, who made the save.
Jonathan Bernier responded in kind with a very nice save on Martin St. Louis in the front of the net off a great feed from below the goal line to the front of the net that left St. Louis looking skyward.
With just 4 minutes remaining, a horrific giveaway by Radko Gudas in his own zone to Tyler Bozak quickly ended up behind Ben Bishop via Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk for a 3-2 lead with 4:02 remaining in the game.
The best chance to tie it up for the Lightning came less than a minute later, as the puck was put right in St. Louis' wheelhouse on the right side of the net but Bernier's outstretched pad denied the Lightning a chance to send it to overtime and salvage at least a point. Head coach Jon Cooper pulled Bishop at first opportunity, but the Lightning failed to get any good looks in the dying minutes and fell 3-2 in regulation.
- The Lightning hit at least four goal posts in this one, and they weren't the "outside of the post" meaningless type shots. They were hard, audible shots that beat Jonathan Bernier but not the iron. One came on an early 2-on-1 break where J.T. Brown slipped the puck under the Leafs' netminder and the puck somehow ricocheted off iron, off Bernier, and stayed out of the net. So while Bernier did sport a sparkling .952 save percentage, there was an awful lot of luck involved.
- Conversely, it's easy to point at Ben Bishop's .885 as a reason the Lightning lost, but he was good during Toronto's three power plays, he handled the puck well and started a few clean breakouts, and made some good stops too. Sometimes the numbers don't reflect the play, and Bishop's SV% is something we've been predicting will come down for weeks. There is a very large amount of luck/variance involved in goaltending so there's no need to worry about Bishop just yet. This was expected.
- Tim Gleason had a very, very rough night in his role as human punching bag. He blocked a point shot off his ... private area, which felled him for more than a few seconds. Later, an attempted Jonathan Bernier clear off the high glass skipped up and hit him directly in the face. And in the third period, he got tangled up with Teddy Purcell behind the Leafs net, crumpled to the ice, and stayed down, requiring help to gingerly skate off the ice. Not his luckiest night as an NHLer.
- The Lightning outshot the Leafs 42-26, and while the Leafs are no strangers to being outshot (this was the 45th game of the year where the opposition had more shots than Toronto) this was still a very solid offensive/puck possession performance by the Bolts.
- For some reason this seemed to go (mostly) unreported, but James van Riemsdyk got away with a nasty elbow to the head of JT Brown late in the third period that forced Brown to the bench. Officials conferred after blowing the play dead due to the injured player on the ice, but decided not to call what was a blatant penalty on van Riemsdyk, who went on to score the game-winning goal just minutes later (when he would have been in the penalty box). Them's the breaks sometimes. The Lightning get three more opportunities this year to beat the Leafs, starting a week from Thursday in the penultimate game prior to the break for the Sochi Winter Olympics.