The Tampa Bay Lightning continued their road winning streak with a 2-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to lead the NHL in shut-outs (and general greatness). More about that below, but first, the game.
The game starts with a quick pace, as expected. Andrei Vasilevskiy makes some impressive saves (as always). Honestly, it’s a pleasure to watch; no whistles, just a natural flow of 5v5 across the ice, and two immensely talented teams showing their strengths and challenging each other.
The Lightning get a power play halfway through the first and it features an amazing move by Victor Hedman to stop a short-handed attempt by the Leafs, followed by some solid puck movement by the Bolts’ second power play unit.
The Leafs get a power play of their own late in the first and Braydon Coburn (that’s right, COBURN) goes end-to-end with a shorty attempt of his own. The Bolts penalty kill is aggressive and manages to keep the Leafs at bay. The first ends knotted 0-0 and the Bolts will start the second with the man-advantage.
The Bolts’ power play comes up empty after an impressive save by Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen. Halfway through the second, the Leafs start attacking and the Bolts are barely keeping their heads above water. Mitch Marner is a force of nature, sneaking behind the Bolts’ defense and forcing Vasy to make some INCREDIBLE saves. My heart is racing - this game is unbelievably fun.
The middle of the second frame is end-to-end action. High-danger shots everywhere! It honestly looks like a junior hockey game. The dam is going to break soon. It has to, right?
Look out! The fourth line gets it done. Chris Kunitz strips the puck from Andersen and sends it to Cedric Paquette in front of the net. Paquette gets his first goal of the season. 1-0 Lightning.
The Bolts get a power play shortly after that goal and Vasy has to make YET ANOTHER stop to prevent a short-handed goal. Get it together, Bolts’ power play.
Tampa starts to pick up the pace and take control of the game. Out of the middle of nowhere, the horn goes off and stops play. Video review shows that Alex Killorn went five-hole on Andersen before the puck was kicked out of the net. The Bolts are up 2-0 as the second period draws to a close.
The Leafs are desperate to get back in this game and it’s apparent in their demeanor. Mike Babcock’s team knows this game isn’t over — it’s up to the Bolts to buckle down and maintain their two-goal lead. Early in the third, the Leafs are speeding up the ice and apply a ton of pressure to Vasilevskiy, who continues to prove he’s up to the task.
The Bolts find a rhythm and re-assert themselves, maintaining possession of the puck for long stretches of time. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — this is what I love about this season’s squad: they want to score with every possession.
Toronto isn’t done yet. They continue to challenge the Lightning, forcing them to work hard to keep the Leafs off the score sheet. Paquette takes a penalty, allowing Toronto’s dangerous power play to truly test Vasy. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Vasy stonewalls them. The penalty kill gets aggressive and creates a few short-handed chances. Have I mentioned how much fun this game is? Because it’s so much fun. Truly end to end action.
Down by two goals with less than three minutes in the game, the Leafs empty their net. Stralman ices the puck and the Leafs get an offensive zone draw. Surprise surprise, Marner attacks Vasy with what should be a sure goal - so of course, Vasy stops him. I swear Marner will have nightmares about this game. That’s it. Game over. The Bolts pull off another impressive win over a great team.
The Good The Elite
ANDREI VASILEVSKIY. Okay, I know we all know he’s great, but WOW tonight was an absolutely incredible performance. Vasy was locked in. He knew exactly where the puck was at all times and he kept it out of his net with sheer determination. The only thing that rivals his talent is his competitive spirit. This is a guy who gives 200% every night and takes goals against as a personal affront.
The team in front of him may waiver for a few minutes, but Vasy never does. You can feel the confidence that emanates forward from his net — the guys in front of him know he’ll be there whenever needed. After tonight, he will lead the league in all goalie statistics. He has not allowed a goal in 166:46. He’s only 23 years old with a $3.5 million cap hit. He’ll lead the way for the Bolts for many years to come.
The Bad The Exceptional
After reading through my recap, one name is noticeably absent - Auston Matthews. He is undoubtedly Toronto’s best player and he was pretty much invisible tonight. Why, you ask? He spent most of the night battling the Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson line. This trio is the perfect blend of offensive threat and defensive awareness. Game in and game out, they prove they can shut down any team’s top line. Their value cannot be understated as the Bolts look to make a deep playoff run.
The Ugly The Surprises
Cedric Paquette scored his first goal in almost a calendar year (last goal was January 21, 2017). Alex Killorn finally broke the curse and found the back of the net. Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn were both outstanding tonight. These are all players who have faced criticism by plenty of people (myself included), but tonight they rose to the occasion.
Final numbers. Impressive effort by the Lightning to keep up the pressure in the third with the lead. pic.twitter.com/vjTGaVttjw— Replacement Level Analyst (@loserpoints) January 3, 2018
People often throw around the phrase “you need depth to win,” and these four players were the perfect example of that tonight. Here’s hoping they continue to make me feel bad for second-guessing their value, because the Lightning will need every player to contribute if they hope to lift the Stanley Cup this summer.