A duel of fates occurred this evening as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-2 Saturday night. The Lightning returned home after a disappointing road trip where they went 1-3-0, while the San Jose Sharks were looking to extend their win streak to four games after playing the Florida Panthers last night.
On the night where Star Wars was being celebrated at Amalie Arena the visiting Sharks provided the perfect antagonist with their living Wookie Brett Burns. Would Jedi Master Steven Stamkos be able to lead his Order against this incursion?
It certainly seemed so as the Lightning skated circles around the Sharks for the first 10 minutes of the game. Chances, shots, and pressure were all in the Lightning’s favor, but due to the play of Sharks’ goaltender Martin Jones, the score remained tied.
San Jose started to find their footing as the first frame progressed and began clogging the neutral zone to try and slow Tampa’s advance—it worked. Slowly, the Sharks began to bring balance to the ice and forced Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to make a few dangerous saves.
Unfortunately, the Lightning made one mistake in the first period and San Jose capitalized on it. Marc-Edouard Vlasic carried the puck into the neutral zone as Tampa was changing and fed a pass to Ryan Carpenter, who held the puck at the blue line before feeding a pass across the zone to Daniel O’Regan. O’Regan immediately fired the puck towards the net, and it was saved by Vasilevskiy; however, the rebound went directly to an uncovered Barclay Goodrow, who promptly buried it into the gaping net to give the Sharks an (undeserved) lead.
Why was Barclay uncovered? When Carpenter stopped at the blueline, Slater Koekkoek tried to stay with him and got tangled up with Goodrow. Koekkoek tried to poke check Carpenter, but couldn’t reach far enough. By the time Koekkoek realized where Goodrow had gone, he was too out of position to stick check him.
Is that Koekkoek’s fault? He probably should have followed Goodrow after they got tangled up, but the rebound went directly to Goodrow. Those plays happen. However, the coaching staff didn’t seem to think so. Koekkoek played 5:07 in the first period and only 3:22 in the second. His partner, Dan Girardi, played 5:39 in the first and 4:21 in the second. They played the least of any pairing in the second frame. Koekkoek finished the game with 14:36 while Girardi finished with 17:16, so it wasn’t all doom and gloom for them.
Fortunately, the second period that was to come proved to be a powerful one from Tampa Bay. An interesting thing I’ve noticed this season is how they like to transition through the neutral zone with possession and speed. Brayden Point received a pass in the neutral zone and proceeded to skate towards his own blueline.
At the same time, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov were skating towards the Sharks zone. Point saucer-passed a backhand to Kucherov, who sent it to Palat. Palat skated down the left wing wide to pull Joe Pavelski and Justin Braun towards him. Palat then made one of the most gorgeous saucer passes you’ll ever see that landed perfectly on Kucherov’s stick. Of course, Kucherov scored on this chance. Nikita Kucherov plays mind tricks often with NHL goaltenders, but here he simply backhanded past Martin Jones to tie the game—only 28 seconds into the period.
Tampa never lifted their foot off the pedal as they continued to shell Jones with shots and suffocate the Sharks throughout the period. If it wasn’t for Jones making some spectacular saves in the second period the Lighting would’ve been leading 4-1 before the second intermission. Alas, Jones stood on his head and thwarted every other shot from Tampa Bay to keep the game even.
Coming into the third period I had a feeling that Tampa Bay was going to come out with as much fire as they did in the previous two periods. Tyler Johnson was apparently trying to break the Kessel Run (9 parsecs) record when he out-skated two Sharks defenders to a loose puck (that took an extremely weird bounce), and backhanded it over Jones’s shoulder to break the stalemate just 1:39 into the third period.
The Bolts refused to allow San Jose any breathing room and continued to attack relentlessly. Johnson scored his second of the game after a scramble in front of Jones left him wide open, and Cory Conacher scored off a great pass from Alex Killorn. It honestly felt like there was an awakening occurring as the game progressed. Once Tampa Bay fully awoke at the end of the second period the Sharks could only hope Martin Jones would say, this is not the goal you are looking for.
Justin Braun managed to close the gap for San Jose with just over five minutes to play, but it was too little too late for the Sharks. There wasn’t a big explosion of cheers from the Sharks bench and it honestly felt as though they were content with getting the game over with. The pressure continued to be in Tampa Bay’s favor with San Jose getting a few more shots, but Braun’s goal did very little to change momentum.
Kucherov added insult to injury as he scored on a late breakaway to make it 5-2, but I’ll get to why his second goal was noteworthy later in the recap.
Star Wars night was celebrated in wonderful fashion at Amalie Arena and the Lightning put on a great performance to get back into the win column. The previous road trip displayed sloppy play, regression, and a perceived lack of motivation from Tampa Bay. Seeing them get a few days of rest and come out as strong as they did this evening is a good sign that their slight slump was merely a road bump on their stellar season so far.
Heading into tonight’s game we saw that the lines were going to be shuffled up a bit. Jon Cooper put Johnson with Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov, Kucherov with Brayden Point and Palat, and Yanni Gourde with Killorn and Conacher.
At first, I was skeptical about Johnson on the wing. He’s hardly played there during his NHL career and I was concerned he wouldn’t be a fit. Man, was I glad I was wrong. Johnson looked quite comfortable with Stamkos and Namestnikov. His first goal was on the power-play, so you can’t count that one, but his second one was the result of that entire line playing well (and Victor Hedman doing Victor Hedman things cause...you know...he’s Obi Wan...I mean Victor Hedman).
Will these lines stay? Most likely not. However, figuring out different line combinations now will only serve to help the Lightning in the playoffs when matchups and mind games become the norm between coaches. Hopefully, Cooper sees what other combinations can work and keeps them in his back pocket for future use when it becomes crunch time.
Kucherov ties Prospal
Before the game
Nikita Kucherov is two goals away from tying Vinny Prospal for 6th place on the Lightning's career goals list (125 for Kuch and 127 for Prospal) #GoBolts— Matthew Esteves (@mattesteves89) December 2, 2017
After Kucherov tied Prospal
Nikita Kucherov is now tied with VInny Prospal for 6th all time in goals for the Lightning with 127. Keep scoring you Russian beauty. #SJSvsTBL #GoBolts— Matthew Esteves (@mattesteves89) December 3, 2017
Kucherov is 24 years old and has 127 goals in 311 games. Keep on scoring, you Russian beauty.
There weren't enough Star Wars puns on Twitter
Many Bothans died gathering this information https://t.co/O1Ai0JMLdF— Matthew Esteves (@mattesteves89) December 3, 2017
San Jose thought they were in this game after 40 minutes. Apparently, they started to choke on these aspirations. Johnson scores again. Tampa has a 3-1 lead w/ 14:11 left in the 3rd. #SJSvsTBL #GoBolts— Matthew Esteves (@mattesteves89) December 3, 2017
Johnson right down the Death Star trench to back hand a puck that banked off the back wall and in front of the net. 2-1 Lightning. Assisted by Palat and Sergachev.— Raw Chargeov (@RawCharge) December 3, 2017
Three keys tonight...— Raw Chargeov (@RawCharge) December 3, 2017
1. Don't let the wookiee win
2. Shoot first
3. May the Force be with you
We needed more. COME ON PEOPLE!
The Last Jedi is not out in theaters yet.