The Maple Leafs are a troubled team right now, dealing with difficulty on a number of fronts. As such, they are in "wait-til-the-draft-if-not-next-year" mode. The Lightning are a team that's playoff-bound, waiting to lock down their seed in the postseason tournament. Tonight's game between the two featured long stretches that looked like you might expect in a matchup between teams currently going in opposite directions, with the Lightning clearly in charge and getting very little in terms of a challenge. But with a few spots where things got close enough to remind you of all the old adages about never taking opponents lightly and "that's why they play the games".
"It's just being consistent... since we've been home after the Chicago game, we have had some dips for periods in our game and we've got to eliminate those." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper
Tampa Bay had a pretty easy go of it in the first period.
They got their first goal of the night at 4:25 when four Maple Leafs, including a way out-of-position Eric Brewer, converged on Ondrej Palat who fed the puck to Nikita Kucherov who was all alone and skated through a vacant right side of the offensive zone to score. Tyler Johnson picked up the secondary assist.
At 15:17, Ryan Callahan was credited with a goal that actually deflected off of former Bolt Brewer, who managed to cram an entire bad night into one period of his Maple Leafs debut. Steven Stamkos offered assistance on the play.
The period ended with the Lightning up 2-0 and very much in charge.
Things got off to a sloppy start in the second and Toronto halved the lead at 6:48 on a goal from David Booth, ending a 31-game personal drought. He was assisted by Peter Holland. Also ended was a two-game streak of shutouts at home for the Lightning.
The Lightning never really got on track at any point during the period and the one-goal lead did not feel very comfortable heading into the third.
"Well, it's weird because the second has usually been a real strong period for us, and now the last couple games it hasn't been what we liked." - Cooper
Tampa Bay got the lead back to two when Vladislav Namestnikov, recently recalled from Syracuse, scored at 6:31 when the puck deflected off of his skate. He got helpers from Andrej Sustr and Victor Hedman. The play was reviewed very briefly but upheld as there was clearly no kicking motion of any kind on behalf of Namestnikov.
"At 6:31 of the third period in the Maple Leafs/Lightning game, video review supported the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Vladislav Namestnikov's skate and into the Toronto net in a legal fashion. According to Rule 49.2 'A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal.' Good goal Tampa Bay." - NHL Situation Room
While not nearly as sharp as it has been in recent games, the Lightning power play pushed the lead to 4-1 at 15:14 when Alex Killorn scored on assists from Stamkos and Jason Garrison. It appeared the matter was settled at that point.
But at 17:42, the Maple Leafs closed the gap again on a goal that bounced in off of former Bolt Richard Panik's back. Dion Phaneuf and Nazem Kadri picked up the assists on the play.
Toronto pulled goaltender Jonathan Bernier for the extra skater and was able to apply 6-on-4 pressure for most of the last two minutes when Kucherov went off for a high stick at 18:11. The Lightning were unable to fill the empty net but held back the onslaught for the win, bringing their overall record to 40-20-6 and 25-6-1 at home.
"We want it to be a tough place to play. We want teams to come in here and know we are good at home and they're going to get our best. So far this year, we have done that. That's all gearing up towards playoffs. Those playoff games at home, you've got to win them." - Callahan
The current homestand concludes Saturday when the Lightning host the Dallas Stars.
- Tonight was the third of four regular season meetings between Toronto and Tampa Bay, and the final contest at Amalie Arena. The Lightning have the edge in the season series with a 2-1-0 record. They'll meet for the final time in Toronto on March 31.
- Stamkos now has points in his last six games against Toronto (six goals, five assists) and has accumulated 15 goals and 15 assists in the 24 games he has faced the Maple Leafs during his career.
- The Maple Leafs are now 8-21-5 on the road this season
- Tampa Bay's home shutout streak ends with 127:53 between goals scored by visitors.
- The Lightning have a current three-game winning streak at home.
- The power play may have looked shakier than it has lately, but the penalty kill was sharp again tonight, going a perfect 3-for-3 and allowing only four shots on goal while shorthanded.
- The Lightning honored Chris Card as the 32nd Lightning Community Hero of the season during the first period of tonight's game. Card, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Lutheran Services FL. Over the past two decades, Card has been trailblazing initiatives to improve child welfare. He is noted for leading the state of Florida through reformation of the former child welfare system toward the current Community Based Care model, in which services of child welfare are transferred to community non-profit agencies. This integration has produced many notable results for abused and neglected children, including significantly increased adoptions. Card's designated organization for the Lightning Community Heroes Program donation, Lutheran Services Florida (LSF), is a statewide, non-profit, human services agency dedicated to helping all people regardless of religious affiliation, age or national origin. LSF is based in Tampa and has more than 60 programs throughout the state of Florida. Since its establishment in 1982, nearly 900,000 children and families have received assistance from LSF's vital services.