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Lightning do almost everything wrong, win anyway 7-6 over Devils

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Lightning and Devils forego defense in the interest of chaos.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

We should have known it would be a rollicking good time in New Jersey when the starting goaltenders had combined for a whopping zero wins heading into the night. As they say in boxing, “Someone’s O has to go!” Luckily for the Lightning it was Curtis McElhinney picking up his first win of the season as Tampa Bay prevailed in overtime with a wildly non-defensive 7-6 victory.

While surrendering six goals is never optimal, the Lightning did have some things handicapping them heading into the game. They were playing their second game in as many nights. It seemed like half of their team was injured.

Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak were out on defense while Jan Rutta and Luke Schenn were in. Up front, with Pat Maroon out of the line-up, it was Alexander Volkov skating on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (not a bad way to debut). Anthony Cirelli was in the line-up but not 100%. The same could be said for Brayden Point.

However, to paraphrase the late great Fred Rogers, “It’s not so much what we have in this life game that matters. It’s what we do with what we have.” What did the Lightning do with what they had? Provide lots of offense for both sides.

First Period

Playing their second game in as many days the Lightning were looking to get off to a fast start so they immediately took a penalty. Kevin Shattenkirk flipped the puck into the benches and after a brief huddle the officials decided it was a delay of game.

Following a two-on-one attempt from Steven Stamkos that went wide of the net, it didn’t take long for the Devils to get on the board. A shot was tracking wide of the net and hit Wayne Simmonds. The veteran quickly backhanded a pass to Kyle Palmieri, who one-timed it past Curtis McElhinney. Bummer.

The Lightning had some solid shifts following the goal and were pretty much in control at even strength. Despite some good looks, they didn’t put anything past Corey Schneider. Making his season debut, Jan Rutta showed that he had been paying attention from the press box by taking a penalty behind the Lightning net.

There were no goals scored, but McElhinney had a rough go of it. He made a nice save on a centering pass that deflected off of Braydon Coburn. To do it, he had to go post to post and his lower body didn’t seem to agree with the full split he went into. After a visit from the trainer, he continued in the game but looked a little shaky for the next few minutes.

Simmonds didn’t do him any favors when he ran into him and knocked him over. The refs arm went up as the Lightning broke down the ice, but the Bolts didn’t need the penalty as Brayden Point, Shattenkirk and Ondrej Palat connected on a nifty passing play to tie the game.

The Lightning had a chance on the power play but weren’t able to connect as the Devils did a pretty good job keeping everything to the perimeter. Point had a chance in front of the net but scuffed the shot wide under duress from the New Jersey defense.

Strong even strength play gave them the lead. They won a battle along the boards and Shattenkirk slipped a pass to Alex Killorn. The Harvard grad spun and shot in one motion. Schneider didn’t react fast enough and it was in the net.

The Lightning took another penalty towards the end of the period, because why not? New Jersey wasn’t able to convert and after twenty minutes of decent play at even strength, the Lightning went into the locker room with a 2-1 lead.

Second Period

The Lightning went into the middle frame with the lead. After twenty minutes of play, they were trailing. It was a bit deserved. After starting the game with a little bit of jump, the Lightning looked like a team playing on the back end of two games in two days. New Jersey won a lot of the puck battles along the boards and the Lightning took a few lazy penalties (how you doin’ Mikhail Sergachev?).

Both teams had a pretty apparent plan for their offense. Work the puck back to the points and look for deflections and rebounds in front of the net. The Lightning almost had one about four minutes into the period as Shattenkirk’s wrister was knocked just wide of the net. Mathieu Joseph then took a boarding penalty that set up the next Jersey goal which came just as his time in the box expired.

Nico Hischier had his shot stopped by Mac’s leg pad but the rebound came back in front of the net. Instead of shooting it, Pavel Zacha made a nifty little pass to Jesper Bratt who was streaking in unmarked. Mac had no chance to stop the shot and the game was tied.

The Lightning retook the lead a few minutes later and it came on a rebound opportunity off a shot from the point. Sergachev found a little room and let a wrister go. Schneider made the save and PK Subban had the puck drop at his skates. He just couldn’t corral it before Brayden Point picked up the loose change and roofed it over the goaltender.

That lead lasted about thirty seconds. Will Butcher fired a puck at the Lightning net and Kyle Palmieri, out of self-protection more than anything else, waived his stick at it and it bounced past Mac. There wasn’t much the goaltender could do on that one, or the one that followed it.

The Devils did a good job of keeping the pressure on and the puck in the Lightning zone. Their hard work paid off with a bit more luck. Another shot from the blueline was deflected, this time by Coburn, up and over Mac. Three goals in just over 90 seconds.

The Lightning’s best chance after that came following Sergachev’s penalty. As it expired, he skated out of the box and onto a pass from Tyler Johnson. The puck was bouncing a bit and that slowed Sergachev just a bit. He was clean into the zone, but he knew Hischier was catching up quickly, he rushed his shot just a bit and tried to slide it five-hole, but Schneider batted it aside.

Third Period

The Lightning had one thing going for them in the third period. That was the fact that the New Jersey Devils have been terrible in the third period. They’ve coughed up leads in multiple games and had a -11 goal differential. They made it a -10 by scoring early in the period. The ageless Sami Vatanen beat Nikita Kucherov to a loose puck in the Lightning zone and then shielded the defending Hart Trophy winner away from the puck. He cut in and dragged the puck onto his backhand and beat McElhinney. Honestly it was really nice goal by a defenseman. Sadly, it made the Lightning deficit 5-3.

The Lightning bounced right back and scored quickly after that. Mathieu Joseph and Anthony Cirelli did some fine work to win a couple of puck battles along the boards in the Devils’ end. That led to Cirelli feeding Jan Rutta at the blue line. The defensman’s booming shot from there tipped off of Cirelli and into the net. The lead was cut to one.

Still, they were trailing and the clock was winding down. So, did the Lightning say, “Screw this, let’s pack our bags and forget about this game?” Nope, they broke things open a bit. Which was both good and bad. They went to a little more of a freestyle game, looking to rush the puck up the ice. Since they really hadn’t been playing much defense since the first period, it didn’t really matter.

Lucky for them, McElhinney turned into Andrei Vasilevskiy for a few minutes. He stuffed Kyle Palmieri on two in-close attempts. He then saw Jack Hughes fire a shot wide on a two-on-one rush with Taylor Hall. Rutta actually made a nice play by laying out and forcing a tough angle pass from Hall that left Hughes little room to shoot.

Three minutes later, Andy Green had plenty of room to shoot as he was left all alone in front of McElhinney. The goalie sprawled out and made a spectacular save. Honestly, it was the save of the game and changed the outcome.

Spurred on by the heroic goaltending, Tampa Bay used a lucky bounce to tie it back up. The Lightning busted through the neutral zone with a 4-on-2 advantage. I’d love to say it led to a lovely passing sequence that ended in a highlight goal, but that would be lies. And we must not tell lies here. Instead, Mathieu Joseph tried to force a pass over to a wide open Alex Killorn and it hit a backchecking Taylor Hall and deflected past Schneider. Tie game.

Things evened out a bit until Brayden Point made a very nice play. Skating into the Devils’ zone he was tackled by Pavel Zacha. Before the New Jersey center tried to push him through the ice he was able to pass the puck over to Palat. Another spinning shot from the right circle beat Schneider and the Bolts amazingly had the lead.

Did they hold on to it? Of course not. With the goaltender pulled and after a couple of icings and a failure to clear the puck a shot came from the point. Kyle Palmieri made a veteran move by crosschecking McDonough out of the way. That gave him plenty of time to swat the rebound past McElhinney and into the net. As the hats came raining down in New Jersey, a game recapper in Salt Lake City slowly started weeping.

The Lightning had a couple of half-hearted shots blocked at the buzzer and it was off to the extra session.

Overtime

Having coughed up the win with less than ten seconds to go, the Bolts had to regroup and focus for overtime. They still had a chance to walk away with two points in a game where they surrendered six goals. Thanks to Tyler Johnson they did just that.

The Lightning managed to change lines after a little pressure from New Jersey to open the period. After a redirect chance went wide for the Devils the Lightning skated the puck out of the zone. Anthony Cirelli was able to get it to Tyler Johnson and get off the ice for a line change. A shot from in front of the net went wide and Ryan McDonough had a clear look at an empty net. His shoot slid through the crease harmlessly but the Lightning recovered. Ondrej Palat slid it to Johnson who beat Schneider for the win.

Notes:

  • Curtis McElhinney may have had the best six goals against game in the history of the NHL. That being said, he didn’t really help himself with the amount of rebounds he surrendered throughout the game.

Not making his life any easier was the fact that the Lightning defense all but acquiesced the front of the net to the Devils. I haven’t seen a heat map of the New Jersey shots, but I’m pretty sure the front of the Lightning net glows a never seen before shade of bright orange.

  • Carter Verhaeghe didn’t get in on the scoring but he had a really solid first two periods. He had a couple of stolen pucks and made some nice offensive moves, he just couldn’t finish. I think he wants to stay in the line-up.
  • Nikita Kucherov had a season-low 14:48 of ice time. He didn’t have a great game and maybe Coach Cooper was sending a message. His linemate, Steven Stamkos, had 15:21 (including 1:30 shorthanded). Stamkos had several good looks at the net but was ripping all of his shots wide or high. He might be gripping the stick a little tight as he hovers near the 400 goal mark.
  • This game was just plain weird. The Lightning pretty much outscored their defensive issues and took advantage of a rather poor game by Cory Schneider.