The Tampa Bay Lightning’s eight game win streak ended tonight in Winnipeg against the Jets as they lost 5-4 in overtime. This one was exciting from start to finish. Both teams showcased why they’re among the favorites to compete for their Stanley Cup and if we get this rematch in late May and June, no neutral fan would be disappointed.
Anton Stralman returned to the lineup tonight for the Lightning after missing several weeks. Erik Cernak shifted to the press box as expected but he will stay with the team during the road trip and head coach Jon Cooper said that he expects him to play this week.
The first period started every bit as fast as would be expected with these two teams on the ice. Neither team scored in the first ten minutes but by that point, the goaltenders had already faced a combined eighteen shots.
The first great chance came for the Lightning’s top line. Nikita Kucherov fed a pass from behind the net to Tyler Johnson in front. He had two chances to beat Hellebuyck but didn’t catch the puck cleanly either time. That line continued its shift in the offensive zone putting pressure on the Jets but couldn’t find the net.
The Jets top line responded to the pressure from the Lightning’s top line a few minutes later. Nik Ehlers and Blake Wheeler combined on the rush and Vasilevskiy nearly gave up a rebound to Mark Scheifle but was able to cover the puck at the last second.
The first power play of the game for either team went to the Lightning with just under nine minutes left in the period. The first unit wasn’t able to generate much but the second unit created several chances starting with one on the rush for Mikhail Sergachev. Instead of dropping the puck to a forward or pulling up to get set in the zone, he carried the puck all the way to the net. Later in the power play, he fired another shot on net and made a pretty pass to J.T. Miller at the backdoor.
Just when it looked like the Jets were going to survive the penalty, Vasilevskiy hit Ondrej Palat with a stretch pass all the way at the offensive blue line during a Jets line change. Palat slid a pass to Alex Killorn who skated in on the rush and beat Hellebuyck with a pretty backhand roof job to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead.
After the power play, the Jets nearly answered as Dustin Byfuglien got a good look at Vasilevskiy on the rush. With just over two minutes to go in the period, Winnipeg got their first power play. Much like the Lightning’s power play, it started slow but ultimately ended in a goal for the second unit.
Until the second half of the power play, the best scoring chance went to the Lightning’s Yanni Gourde who stole the puck in the offensive zone and hit the post. But moments later, Mathieu Perreault deflected a point shot from Tyler Myers to tie the game.
The Jets got another good chance off the ensuing faceoff and almost took the lead but Vasilevskiy made the save and got the Bolts to the first intermission with the game still tied. At the end of the period, the Lightning led in shots and expected goals bet were tied on the scoreboard 1-1.
The second period was one of the best periods of hockey I’ve seen in the NHL this season. It started right away with a good look for Kucherov from his spot in the right circle. The Jets responded with a huge chance for Kyle Connor looking at an open net after a Lightning defensive breakdown. He flubbed the shot keeping the game tied at one goal each.The Bolts pushed back with juicy rebound look for J.T. Miller but like Connor, he couldn’t corral the puck.
After that, the Jets took over the game for an extended stretch. Perreault and Adam Lowry combined to create a chance after Perrealut recovered a bouncing puck that deflected off of Sergachev. Vasilevskiy made an impressive kick save with his left leg as Lowry attempted a spin-o-rama in tight trying to get to his backhand to put the puck in the far side of the net.
The Lightning struggled to put passes together during this stretch leading to them having difficulty getting through the neutral zone. The Jets continued to apply pressure with another chance for Connor. This time, Stralman tied up his stick in front of the net to prevent him from being able to get a good shot on Vasilevskiy.
Eventually, the Jets finally scored on a junky goal by Brandon Tanev. Winnipeg got the puck to the net and created a mess in the crease. The puck slide under Vasilevskiy’s leg and Tanev put in the net to give the Jets the lead.
The lead wouldn’t last long though as the Stamkos line responded with a strong shift ending in the Captain burying a bomb from the top of the circles. The goal was a vintage Stamkos shot as he crushed a one-timer from Ondrej Palat to tie the game at two.
After the second goal, the game was more even with both teams getting chances. Sergachev fired a rocket off the crossbar. Ben Chiarot got a breakaway but was slowed by Braydon Coburn. The third line for the Bolts had a great shift. The Jets responded with some zone time of their own. At this point in the game, it started to feel like every second was spent with one team or the other applying pressure and almost no wasted time in the neutral zone.
The Lightning took the lead for the second time with under five minutes to go in the period. Tyler Johnson recovered the puck in the slot after Sergachev’s shot was blocked and beat Hellebuyck.
Not to be outdone, the Jets repeated their last minute goal scoring from the first period and tied the game. This time, their top line connected. Blake Wheeler passed to Mark Scheifle in the slot. Vasilevskiy had to square to face Scheifle who is one of the most dangerous shooters in the game but instead of shooting, he passed to a wide open Nik Ehlers who had tons of net aim for. He didn’t miss.
At the end of the third period, the Jets had taken over the lead in expected goals and the teams were dead even in shots.
The first two periods set the stage for an epic third period and the teams did not disappoint. Ondrej Palat got things started with a good chance on the rush just over three minutes into the period. Shortly thereafter, he hit Ryan McDonagh with a slick cross-ice pass but McDonagh couldn’t finish.
The Lightning got their second power play of the game around the fourteen minute mark and quickly took advantage. This time, Kucherov beat Hellebuyck with a shot from low in the right faceoff circle off a pass from Stamkos. In a game that featured nine goals, this was the only one that could be labeled soft. Hellebuyck failed to seal off the near side post and let the puck squeak through to give the Lightning the lead 4-3.
The Jets had two good chances to respond. The first was foiled by Adam Erne as he bodied Laine in front of the net. The second was a beautiful backdoor feed from Josh Morrissey that Scheifle couldn’t quite deflect home.
The Scheifle chance seemed like an almost certain goal. Anthony Cirelli got a chance that was almost as good and like the Jets forward, he couldn’t hit the net either. His chance came after Hellebuyck got in trouble behind the net. Miller fed a pass to Cirelli but the puck was rolling and bouncing and ultimately the chance went untaken.
The Lightning did a good job of keeping the pressure on despite having the lead. Erne got a chance for himself after recovering a Sergachev shot that deflected and bounced around in front of the net.
The Jets tied the game with about five minutes to go as the top line struck again. This time, Scheifle fired a puck off the boards behind the net. It bounced directly back into the slot where Nik Ehlers attacked it with a pretty diving shot to even the score at four goals each.
The Bolts nearly reclaimed the lead off the ensuing faceoff as Alex Killorn fired a shot off of Hellebuyck and off the post. Stamkos also got a good look in the final minutes but failed to hit the net.
The teams continued to trade chances through the final minutes. Myers made a great play for the Jets to break up a pass that was heading to Stamkos. Sergachev made an equally good play to break up a two on one going the other direction.
The game headed to overtime tied 4-4, which was fitting because both teams deserved a point. And the fans deserved to see these teams play 3v3.
In overtime, an already intense pace ratcheted up to another level. The Bolts controlled the first 90 seconds or so and got several good looks but failed to seriously test Hellebuyck. The Jets responded with two dangerous counter attacks that almost led to goals.
Through the overtime period, the Lightning controlled the puck but the Jets got the more dangerous chances. Winnipeg finally claimed the win as Laine attacked on the rush. Vasilevskiy stepped out to poke check him but put the puck right on Scheifle’s stick and he didn’t miss.
This will go down as a loss for the Lightning but either team could have won this game. The Bolts played about as well they can. The problem for them tonight was that so did the Jets. And the Jets just happen to be one of the few teams in the league that can skate with the best version of the Lightning.
This was the best game I’ve seen in the NHL this season. Of course a win would have been great. But a point on the road against one of the best teams in the league is an accomplishment. The winning streak might be over but the Lightning should head to Vancouver on Tuesday confident that tonight’s performance would get them a win on most nights.