After blowing out the New York Rangers on Thursday night, it felt like the Tampa Bay Lightning had found their groove this season. For the most part, that stayed true this evening. However, the Winnipeg Jets did just enough with their forecheck, neutral zone pressure, and the fantastic play of Connor Hellebuyck to come out on top 4-3.
Steven Stamkos scored his 400th career goal, marking a personal and franchise milestone (the only player in Lightning history to score that many goals with the organization). That helped eased some of the pain of the loss for the players given how well they played overall.
Jon Cooper mentioned after the game, “There was genuine happiness for Stammer...kind of sucked the bite out of the loss because of what Stammer accomplished.”
The momentum from the game against the Rangers didn’t carry over to the start of this one.
“I didn’t like our start, the first few shifts”, Jon Cooper said of how the team started the game. “Once we got our legs going, we had good zone time, we had some ten bell chances. I thought their goalie made some really really good saves.”
Winnipeg took control from the opening faceoff and repeatedly negated Tampa Bay’s transition game. Winnipeg’s pressure forced weak passes in the defensive zone, disrupted the Lightning’s zone exits, and the opening goal for the Jets displayed that very thing.
The replay, unfortunately, doesn’t show the entire play, but Winnipeg negated a zone exit for Tampa Bay before carrying the puck below the goal line to set this goal up. The shot from Josh Morrissey is rather harmless, but Steven Stamkos’s inability to get a proper stick check on Mathieu Perreault is what burns Tampa Bay here. Stamkos, positionally, isn’t in a bad spot. His stick positioning, however, is.
Winnipeg would continue to push the pace as the period progressed, but Tampa Bay did manage to keep most of their shots to the perimeter. As the period entered it’s second half, the Lightning finally managed to establish some consistent pressure.
Once Tampa Bay got their forechecking game set up, they began to dictate the pace and it only took one errant pass for the Lightning to capitalize on.
Ondrej Palat starts the play with his forecheck before Morrissey manages to recover the puck behind the net. Morrissey then tosses a weak pass into the high slot where Victor Hedman intercepts it to maintain pressure on Winnipeg. After Hedman’s shot is stopped by Hellebuyck, Stamkos recovers the rebound and dekes to the outside before trying to tuck it past Hellebuyck. The puck rolls into the crease, off the opposite post, and Hedman manages to reach it before anyone else to tie the game. It wasn’t pretty, but a goal is a goal.
After 20 minutes, the Lightning controlled 54% of the shot attempts at 5v5 and led in quality chances, 61% to 39%.
Tampa Bay managed to start the second period on better footing than the first, but still nowhere near enough to withstand Winnipeg’s forecheck. An early interference penalty on Yanni Gourde in the offensive zone put Tampa Bay on the penalty kill, but after a few dangerous shots from Winnipeg, the Lightning managed to kill their 16th straight penalty.
That didn’t slow the Jets down though. Winnipeg continued to attack Tampa Bay and eventually regained the lead when Jack Roslovic scored his fourth of the year.
This is a failure to pick up the open man. Roslovic is parked right in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy. There are four Lightning players near him, someone needs to account for Erik Cernak going below the goal line to pressure Andrew Copp. Vasilevskiy also doesn’t realize play is continuing before it’s too late. The initial shot that made its way toward the net bounced off Vasilevskiy, whereas he thought it got stuck in his pads. By the time Vasilevski realized what was going on Roslovic was already shooting the puck.
Then, one of the more questionable challenges of Jon Cooper’s tenure was made. The Lightning coaching staff felt there was a high stick on the puck that would’ve killed the play, but upon review the officials kept the call for Roslovic’s goal. After looking at the various replay angles, I don’t really see what the coaching staff saw. If their complaint was about Copp behind the net, the overhead angle showed him catching the puck with his hand and pushing it down toward the ice. I’m not sure if there was a communication breakdown on this, but it’s a challenge that had no real business being issued.
When questioned about the challenge, Cooper had the following to say, “We wouldn’t challenge that unless we were 100%...we don’t challenge just for, ya know, just by chance...they didn’t see it that way.”
Especially given what happened next.
Nikolaj Ehlers continues to be the Lightning killer. Ryan McDonagh is late to cover his man down low, but at the same time no one challenges Ehlers. Anthony Cirelli could’ve been more aggressive in this situation to force Ehlers to hesitate on taking a shot here. Instead, Ehlers is give far too much time and space and he wires this one over Vasilevskiy to give Winnipeg a two goal lead.
As the period continued, Tampa Bay pushed back and ended up controlling the shot attempts at 5v5 (56%), but they trailed in quality (43%). Stamkos hit a post on a great chance. A boarding penalty on Dmitri Kulikov provided a power-play opportunity for Tampa Bay, but they failed to convert. Pat Maroon generated their best chance in the closing seconds with a partial wrap around that rolled into the crease where no Lightning player managed to get to it before the Jets cleared the zone.
A frustrating period, that was made worse by a highly questionable challenge that ended up putting Tampa Bay down two goals in a matter of 19 seconds.
The first half of the third period showcased a mixed bag for Tampa Bay. They limited Winnipeg’s chances well and controlled the pace, but they still struggled to get anything of high danger on Hellebuyck. Even an earlier power-play from Nathan Beaulieu taking a holding penalty couldn’t get things moving (this power-play chance was rather poor).
Tampa Bay also survived two other penalties with Kevin Shattenkirk being called for hooking at 3:34, and Nikita Kucherov high-sticking Ehlers at 8:07. After these two kills, Tampa Bay started to push play even more.
As the midway point of the period came and went, Tampa Bay’s urgency rose. Winnipeg was still doing a solid job negating pressure in the neutral zone, but the Lightning upped their intensity and started to break through.
It finally started to pay off late in regulation as Stamkos one-timed his 400th goal of his career to reduce the lead to one.
The way Tampa Bay cycled the puck around the offensive zone and kept Winnipeg at bay is what enabled this. Stamkos firing a one-timer is nothing new—it’s something we expect because of how good he is. The process of how they arrived there is the key, and it was something they struggled to do for portions of the game.
Unfortunately, Winnipeg would manage to restore their two goal lead less than a minute later with Kyle Connor’s empty netter.
The Lightning wouldn’t go away though. Anthony Cirelli scored his second goal of the season 1:06 after Connor’s to put even more pressure on Winnipeg in the closing minute.
It wasn’t to be as Winnipeg survived the onslaught from Tampa Bay. There were chances from Hedman (shot went wide), Stamkos (post), and Palat (Hellebuyck absolutely robbed him on a one-timer).
Overall, Tampa Bay controlled game. They had 60% of the shot attempts at 5v5, out-chanced Winnipeg 29-15, generated more high danger chances (11-3), and won the quality battle 60% to 40%. Winnipeg took advantage of the Lightning’s inability to consistently exit the defensive zone with possession, and profited from the unsuccessful challenge. In most games, if the Lightning control this many factors, they win. Tonight, Winnipeg’s neutral zone pressure and Connor Hellebuyck’s stellar play secured the victory for the Jets. Best thing for the team to do is to take solace that their process works. However, tonight, it just didn’t result in goals.