The Lightning have been firmly ensconced in second place in the NHL's Atlantic Division (and 3rd in the Eastern Conference) for so long, it might have been easy to forget that teams were still chasing them. But anybody who didn't notice that things have tightened up, as John mentioned in our preview earlier, will surely notice that after tonight's loss, to Toronto their lead over both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens is now down to a single point.
What stings even more is that with a win, that lead could have been as high as five points, at least over Toronto.
"We played good at times throughout the game, just missing that killer instinct I guess... just not good enough to give ourselves a chance. It starts with our top guys too." - Lightning captain Martin St. Louis
And what stings even worse than that is that once again they lost two of their best players, goalie Ben Bishop and forward Valtteri Filppula to injuries.
The Lightning came out determined and controlled play in the Toronto end for the first half of the opening period. During that first ten minutes, they kept the Maple Leafs from registering a single shot, in spite of losing nine of nine faceoffs during that same time.
The period ended in a scoreless tie with Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, playing in his 11th straight game, stopping all nine shots he faced. Meanwhile his counterpart, Jonathan Bernier for Toronto, was perfect against 12 shots. Even though Bishop faced slightly fewer shots, he actually found himself in more isolated and difficult situations and had to make more spectacular stops. That disturbing trend would carry over into the second period.
Toronto finally took one of the zeroes off the board at the 7:57 mark of the second. Mason Raymond slipped behind defenders at the blue line, broke in alone on Bishop and scored on a backhand shot. Nikolai Kulemin and Morgan Rielly were credited with assists on the play.
Throughout the entire game, both J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov repeatedly put themselves in position to score but were unable to convert.
The 1-0 lead held into the second intermission. Bishop was pulled due to an upper body injury and replaced by Cedrick Desjardins. Bishop finished the night having stopped 21 of 22 shots.
At 2:19 of the third, Jay McClement slipped the puck past a sprawling Desjardins. David Clarkson and Joffrey Lupul contributed assists.
Just under six minutes later, they extended their lead to 3-0 when Carl Gunnarsson and Phil Kessel fed James Van Riemsdyk who scored at 8:10 with a backhand shot.
At 10:28, there was a glimmer of hope for the Lightning when the league's Rookie of the Month for January, Ondrej Palat split defenders and finally solved Bernier. St. Louis and Tyan Johnson had the assists on the goal.
Late in the period, Filppula left the ice and was tended to in the hallway before heading into the dressing room. No immediate word was given on his or Bishop's status and it's assumed both will be evaluated tomorrow (Friday).
Coach Jon Cooper pulled Desjardins for the extra skater with over three minutes remaining and at the 17:08, Tyler Bozak scored the empty netter to seal it. Kessel chipped in with an assist.
There was still one bit of (non-scoring) business: with 1:43 left, Brown found himself breaking away but was ridden into Bernier by Tim Gleason, A scrum ensued and somehow the referees came away with this:
- 18:17 TOR Tim Gleason Roughing against Radko Gudas
- 18:17 TOR Tim Gleason Roughing against Radko Gudas
- 18:17 TOR Jonathan Bernier Roughing against J.T. Brown
- 18:17 TBL Cedrick Desjardins Goalie leave crease
- 18:17 TBL Radko Gudas Misconduct (10 min)
- 18:17 TBL J.T. Brown Interference on goalkeeper against Jonathan Bernier
- 18:17 TOR Tim Gleason Misconduct (10 min)
The result was Tampa Bay's first power play of the game. Cooper pulled Desjardins again but the Lightning were unable to cash in.
"Maybe I look at our team through rose-colored glasses. I thought we handled ourselves in the first period. I thought the first fifteen minutes of the period, we clearly had the edge in play. We had a multitude of opportunities. Some we passed on, which was unfortunate, which has been a little bit of an Achilles Heel for us, and other ones (Bishop) made the saves. In the last five minutes (of the first), we had a bad turnover at the blue line, we took a penalty, and it killed our momentum." - Cooper.
The Lightning will play their last game before the Olympic break on Saturday night when they will host the Detroit Red Wings.
- This was Toronto's first visit to the Forum this season and the second of four meetings between the Maple Leafs and Bolts on the season.
- This ends the Lightning's brief, two-game home win streak.
- The Lightning are now 1-4-0 in their last five games.
- St. Louis now stands with 967 points in his career, six behind Andy Bathgate for 84th on the NHL's all-time list.
- Toronto's Gunnarsson has more career assists (9) against the Lightning than any other team in the NHL.
- Toronto's Cody Franson played in his 300th NHL game.
- Paul Ranger played in his first game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum since leaving the team for personal reasons during the 2009-10. He logged 12:52 of ice time, four hits, three giveaways, two blocked shots and a +1 for the Maple Leafs.X
- The Lightning honored Jamie Klingman as the 26th Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of tonight's game. Klingman, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Athletes Who Care and Learning is for Everyone. Klingman runs several businesses, volunteers roughly 80-100 hours per month and yet still continues to say ‘yes' whenever she is reached out to for help. Her leadership skills and abilities belie her age. When Klingman sees a need, she does not hesitate to provide the guidance necessary to accomplish the goal that will ultimately help a child in need, a survivor or someone less fortunate. Klingman knows what it is like to experience adversity, and is driven by the desire to make sure no one experiences the same pain that she endured. She has dedicated her life to helping others, including survivors of sexual assault at the Crisis Cetner and, in 2007, Klingman founded her own nonprofit charity, Athletes Who Care. Through her charity she has directed seven races and led other events to help raise money while encouraging others to compete.