Playing the latter half of a back-to-back against a divisional opponent while on the road is something that has caused Lightning fans a lot of heartache this season. The Lightning have been fighting tooth and nail to claw their way back into the playoff picture after the trade deadline and claw back they have. After a strong performance against the Ottawa Senators the Lightning are now tied with the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot, though at the moment, the Islanders hold the tiebreaker by virtue of having more ROW wins.
This Lightning team didn’t look like they played last night, they had a little pep in their step as they put Ottawa on the back foot early. Brayden Point (bless his Albertan heart) continued his spectacular play since becoming the top center by opening the scoring off a rebound generated by a Jake Dotchin wrist shot that bounced right towards Point’s stick. The rookie has been wonderful for the Lightning all season and has gotten better after every game. The rest of the first period was a lot of back and forth with both teams getting some solid chances, and both Mike Condon and Andrei Vasilevskiy made some impressive saves to keep the game close.
Bad luck struck the Lightning early in the second, however, as a clearing attempt by Braydon Coburn hit one of the referees’ skates and tumbled right into the wheelhouse of Tommy Wingels, who proceeded to blast a slap shot past Vasilevskiy to tie the game at one. The Lightning began to control momentum for portions of the second period, but were unable to beat Condon to regain the lead. Ottawa had some chances of their own, but Vasilevskiy stood tall once again to ensure the tie wouldn’t be broken.
As the third period progressed both teams continued to have chances with both goaltenders making tremendous saves. Nikita Kucherov had two excellent opportunities in close on Condon, but the Ottawa netminder closed the door. Gabriel Dumont also had an opportunity during a crease scramble, but Condon again made a magnificent toe save to keep the puck out of the net. Aside from the back and forth play nothing of note really stood out in the third until the late penalty for too many men was called and forced the Lightning to finish regulation on a nerve-wracking penalty kill. The Lightning PK did a good job at limiting Ottawa’s chances, but Zack Smith’s wrister from the slot caused a small uptick in my heart rate that I was not prepared for. Luckily Vasilevskiy saved it to ensure the Bolts would get at least one point.
A peculiar thing occurred at the start of overtime. Jon Cooper started the line of Point, Kucherov, and Victor Hedman, which is something he doesn’t normally do until the latter part of the extra period. The pace of the overtime was as quick as you’d expect between these two teams with both clubs trading chances. Ottawa and Tampa Bay both were credited with only three shots during overtime, however, Hedman was able to seal the extra point as he tapped in a puck after Ondrej Palat fed him a beautiful pass across the slot that went between the legs of Derick Brassard.
Since the trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Lightning have gone 6-1-1 and are tied for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Since Florida routed the Toronto Maple Leafs this evening, the Thursday night game becomes one of the biggest games of the season. Toronto sits one point behind the Lightning, and a win Thursday would give Tampa Bay a three-point cushion on their divisional rival, which would only strengthen their playoff chances. A loss doesn’t completely kill the Lightning’s playoff hopes, but it will only make the remaining schedule even more strenuous.
This team believes in themselves folks, we’ve gotta ride this whether they succeed or fail.