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Lightning lose to Carolina in overtime, 3-2

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They now need help in order to clinch the top seed

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered Saturday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes with the chance to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Despite a hard-fought comeback effort, they were undone by a couple of unlikely goals and lost 3-2 in overtime. With Boston winning against Ottawa, the Lightning now need help from the Florida Panthers. Should their in-state rivals beat the Bruins in regulation or overtime/shoot-out, then the Lightning are the top seed. If the Bruins win, they leapfrog the Lightning.

The Lightning’s line-up against the Hurricanes featured a few changes. Louis Domingue was the starter and Mikhail Sergachev and Cory Conacher were scratched for the Bolts. Slater Koekkoek (healthy scratch for five games) and Andrej Sustr (scratched for six games) were inserted in the line-up as Coach Cooper rolled an 11/7 roster.

The First Period

Before everyone was able to settle in the seats, the Lightning were behind. Just 19 seconds into the game, Jordan Staal banked a puck off of Ondrej Palat’s skates and past a hapless Louis Domingue. Without doing anything really wrong (except losing the faceoff) the Lightning found themselves trailing on the scoreboard.

With the 11/7 line-up, Tyler Johnson and JT Miller were paired together and had a rotation of other forwards join them on their line. The best chemistry came with Nikita Kucherov (of course) and they generated a few chances early including a spinning backhand shot by Johnson that Cam Ward fought off.

The Lightning offense, the key to their success all season, found themselves bogged down for most of the period. While Carolina doesn’t have much to play for, they do play a system that is similar to what the Lightning will face in the playoffs. The Canes try to control play in the neutral zone and make it difficult for Tampa to string their attack together. For the first 20 minutes, Carolina was quite successful. With just an occasional foray into the zone, the Lightning weren’t able to cycle the puck or even get into the transition game that generates much of their scoring.

On the other hand, they returned much of the favor to the Canes, playing firm in front of Louis Domingue and the former Arizona netminder made he stops he had to when called upon. There was a brief breakdown by the Lightning where Carolina caught them on a line change and Joakim Nordstrom muscled a slapshot past Domingue’s blocker, but the puck careened off of the post and out of danger.

With just over seven minutes left in the period the Lightning caught a bit of a break. Dan Girardi was caught out of position. He fell to the ice and swung his stick in Staal’s direction. Staal went down and the ref’s arm went up. It looked to be a tripping penalty on Girardi, but the officials huddled together. They conferred and replays confirmed that Staal wasn’t tripped by Girardi’s stick but by the puck, which he stepped on. Penalty overturned.

Choppy play ensued for the rest of the period with Domingue having to blocker away a chance from Valentin Zykov just in front of the net when Girardi and Hedman both overcommitted to one side and left Zykov all alone. Domingue was strong in the first period stopping all the pucks that he had a legitimate chance to save. There was nothing he could do on the first Canes goal, and was all spun around the second time Carolina put a puck in the net.

Phillip Di Giuseppe broke to the net to try and deflect a pass from Noah Hanifin. DiGiuseppe made contact with Domingue and the Lightning goaltender ended up on his back. The puck squirted to the boards where Justin Williams fired it into the net. The call on the ice was that it was a good goal. Coach Cooper asked them to look at it. After a few minutes on the tiny screen, the call was upheld.

So, an offensive player knocked over a goaltender in the crease and the puck was shot in before the goalie had a chance to reestablish his position, but it wasn’t goaltender interference. Ok.

Shots 14-12 Carolina

Second Period

Even though it was a little bit of bad luck (and questionable officiating) that had the Lightning behind after the first period, it wasn’t like they were blowing the socks off of the Hurricanes. They struggled to make the short passes out of the zone and were a little too passive in the defensive zone. So they would surely start out much stronger right?

Ehh...not so much.

Early play was mostly Carolina, however, the Miller/Johnson/Kucherov line had a really good shift that spent a long time in the offensive zone. It didn’t result in the goal (mainly because they didn’t really shoot the puck), but it was the best shift of the game by the Lightning. The very next shift was the fourth line went out and duplicated the effort with added bonus of shooting the puck at the net. Callahan fired a shot at the net and a screened Ward didn’t see it until the red light went off. It was an ugly goal, but it counted just the same.

With the deficit trimmed to one, the Lightning picked up their play a little. On their very next shift, Callahan and Paquette teamed up to cause a turnover. The shot from Paquette was deflected but Hanifin buried his stick into the the side of Callahan in front of the net and was whistled for interference. For only the second time in the season series, the Lightning had a power play against Carolina. It was not successful. the best chance coming from a Hedman blast that rattled off of Ward’s chest protector.

The rest of the period was a grind as both sides continued to negate open space for their opponents. The Lightning had to kill off a penalty after Slater Koekkoek was whistled for interference. Not much in the way of offense for either team until the period drew to a close and a reconstituted line of Miller, Yanni Gourde and Anthony Cirelli wreaked a bit of havoc only to see their attempts turned aside by the veteran Ward.

Shots 13-11 Carolina in the period 27-23 Carolina for the game.

Third Period

Again, the Hurricanes were the better team to start the period and Louis Domingue was forced to make two brilliant saves to keep the game within a goal. This may be one of his best games of the season as Carolina’s offensive philosophy seems to be, “chuck it at the net and hope it goes in.”

The Lightning’s talent could only be held back for so long. In the third, they started to find some seams in the Carolina defense. The only problem, Cam Ward. Tampa started to find some space in the neutral zone and that led to some dangerous attacks.

Kucherov bewitched the Carolina defense with some stickwork, including a nifty little pass to himself between Justin Williams skates. He then found Miller with a pass and the shot would have found the back of an unguarded net if Di Giuseppe hadn’t blocked the shot at its release.

A deflected pass by Palat led to Tyler Johnson burning down the boards on a two-one-one with Alex Killorn. Johnson massaged the pass over to Killorn who released a good shot on net that Ward turned aside.

Killorn had another shot on the rush that was knocked down by Ward and swatted away before a crashing Hedman could get to it. In between the rushes by the Lightning the Hurricanes would enter the zone and fire a puck at Domingue. So despite the sense that Tampa was outplaying Carolina, the shots were staying fairly even. While they maintained their shot lead, their lead on the scoreboard finally dissipated after a nice play by JT Miller.

Miller corralled the puck at the blue line and went to pass it across the ice. He whiffed. Luckily the Carolina player closest to him was a stickless Sebastian Aho. Miller sidestepped him (which wasn’t hard since Aho was heading to the bench to get a new stick instead of defending Miller) and was much more successful on his second pass attempt to Palat. The snake-bitten Palat whipped the puck at the net and past Ward to tie the game.

The Lightning and Hurricanes traded a few chances over the remainder of the game, but the horn sounded on regulation with the game knotted at two.

Shots 13-11 Carolina, 40-34 for the game.

Overtime

It looked like Coach Cooper was going for the win as he starts overtime with Brayden Point, Kucherov and Hedman. They won the face-off but couldn’t get into the offensive zone. Kucherov coughed up the puck at the Lightning blue line and Domingue had to make an acrobatic save to deny Jacob Slavin.

Unfortunately, Carolina maintained possession and ended their season with a successful final shot (their 42nd of the night). Elias Lindholm snapped home a one-time pass from Teuvo Teravainen for the win. Now, the Lightning have to hope Florida beats Boston on Sunday in order to win the division and top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Good

Louis Domingue. The Lightning back-up was outstanding in stopping 39 of 42 shots sent his way. The two goals in the first period - the very definition of not his fault. A deflected puck off a skate and a goal that shouldn’t have counted. Even the overtime winner would have been a magnificent save had he stopped it. His play down the stretch has earned him the back-up spot for next season.

Victor Hedman - The Big Swede had a monster game. He played over twenty-six minutes and was all over the ice. He set up the Callahan shot with a nice move from the center of the ice and was breaking up plays all night long. It’s impressive how fast he can get from one side of the ice to the other.

The Bad

What is goaltender interference? I know this has been hammered into the ground this year, but if a goalie getting knocked over and is unable to get up in time to stop the next shot attempt isn’t interference, then nothing is. It’s not like Domingue was just laying back on the ice waiting for a whistle.

Or, if the NHL deems it a good goal, then give us an actual explanation. Starting that “no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line” isn’t an explanation. We knew that already because the ref told us. Explain why the contact wasn’t interference or don’t say anything at all.

This needs to be fixed.

Bad number two - how about mixing in a shot or two Nikita Kucherov? You are a wizard with the puck, but with Steven Stamkos out and some jumbled up lines, you are also a threat to score. To have zero shots in the game is unacceptable. As was the turnover in overtime. It’s a bit unfair to pick on him after he’s been so, so good over the last two seasons, but he isn’t immune to a bad game every now and then.

The Whatever:

To celebrate the successful regular season or to serve at a playoff party, how about a Carolina-Style BBQ receipe?

Bon Appetit’s North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork with Vinegar Sauce

INGREDIENTS

Pork

2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar4 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika1 tablespoon kosher salt1 teaspoon English mustard powder1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper1 teaspoon onion powder3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch-thick slices2 tablespoons olive oil2 cups low-salt chicken broth1 cup beer (such as lager, Pilsner, or amber)

Vinegar Sauce

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar3/4 cup ketchup1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce4 teaspoons (packed) dark brown sugar2 teaspoons kosher salt1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

RECIPE PREPARATION

Mix first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add pork and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.Press Warm; set timer for 30 minutes (add or subtract time as needed) and press Start to heat the pressure cooker. Heat oil in pot. Working in batches, add pork and cook until browned; transfer to plate. Add broth, beer, and browned pork, with any juices from the plate, to pot. Lock lid in place, making sure vent is sealed. Press Warm; set timer for 42 minutes and press Start to cook.Release pressure manually by opening vent. Remove lid. Transfer pork to a platter and let cool. Discard cooking liquid.Vinegar Sauce

Combine all ingredients in the cleaned pot. Press Warm; set timer for 15 minutes and press Start. Bring to a simmer; cook for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, shred pork with your fingers. Serve with vinegar sauce.