The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the St. Louis Blue 4-3 in a barn burner that saw the Blues jump out to a 3-0 lead and the Lightning nearly come all the way back to tie it multiple times. Brayden Point scored his 40th goal of the season and Steven Stamkos scored his 39th. But it wasn’t enough to secure the two points.
The Lightning were without Yanni Gourde as he served the first of his two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head against Carolina on Thursday. Ryan Callahan took his place on the fourth line. Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi remained out of the lineup.
The loss ended a seven-game win streak for the Lightning and means they’ll need to win five of their final six games if they want to set the all-time single season wins record.
This game looked like it might be over by the twelve minute mark but it didn’t start with any indication that would be the case. The Blues got the better of the first five minutes but not in a way that portended what would happen just minutes later. They controlled the puck but couldn’t generate anything dangerous.
The Lightning got the best chance of that stretch on a counter rush by Brayden Point. He skated in on the right side and fired a good shot up high. Blues goalie Jordan Binnington gloved it to keep the Bolts off the board.
Over the next five minutes, the Lightning continued to push back. Tyler Johnson had a good look on a rebound. Point got another chance, this time combining on a rush with Nikita Kucherov. But neither ended up in the net.
The Blues responded with a 2 on 1 for Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly. Andrei Vasilevskiy was able to make the save but the Lightning took a penalty in the process. And this is where the game went sideways for Tampa.
The St. Louis power play looked good and Robert Thomas cashed in on a secondary rebound. Tyler Bozak took the original shot, Patrick Maroon put the first rebound back on net, and Thomas beat Vasilevskiy on the second.
Less than a minute later Alex Steen picked up a loose puck and made it 2-0. The play started with Zach Stanford forcing Ondrej Palat and Kucherov to turn the puck over in the defensive zone. Sanford’s shot deflected off a player and Steen corralled it and finished the play.
Less than a minute later again, Tarasenko and O’Reilly got free for another 2 on 1. This time, Victor Hedman couldn’t disrupt the play. O’Reilly got a clean pass across to Tarasenko and the Russian winger buried it. From 0-0 to 3-0 in 75 seconds.
The flurry was similar to what the Lightning have been doing to teams all season. The Bolts were playing well and seemed to be finding control of the game. Then came a power play and suddenly, they found themselves in a 3-0 hole. Oskar Sundqvist nearly made in 4-0 less than a minute later but this time, Vasilevskiy made the save.
The Lightning slowed the bleeding with a good response from the fourth line. Ryan Callahan created a chance for himself and while he didn’t score, that shift got the ice back to a level tilt instead of all the play happening in front of the Lightning net. Point and Kucherov followed that by combining for another chance but Binnington saved it.
With 3:30 left in the period, Callahan drew a penalty giving the Lightning their first power play and a chance to trim the lead. But neither unit could generate much and the two minutes passed with little threat to the Blues net.
At the very end of the period, Ryan McDonagh took an interference penalty. All but two seconds carried over to the second frame.
After 20 minutes, the Blues led slightly in shots but handily in expected goals.
The Lightning didn’t go quietly in the second period. For a few minutes, they even looked like they would come back to win. It started immediately from the opening puck drop with Alex Killorn creating a shorthanded scoring chance. Binnington saved it but didn’t know where it was and had to sprawl to make sure he had it covered.
On the ensuing faceoff, Anthony Cirelli won the puck and slid it to Killorn. This time, Killer beat the St. Louis goaltender and cut the lead to 3-1.
Following the penalty kill, Tampa ramped up the pressure keeping the Blues on their heels through the first five minutes. Jan Rutta fired a bomb on the rush that nearly landed perfectly for Brayden Point on what would have been a wide open rebound chance. Then, Killorn almost got a breakaway but the pass was just behind him.
The Lightning eventually did cut the lead to one on a beautiful play by McDonagh. He carried the puck in the zone and sat back into the boards waiting for the attack to join him. Point went to the net and McDonagh hit him with a perfect pass. The goal was Point’s 40th of the season and his 90th point.
With 11 minutes left, Sanford took a high sticking penalty on Braydon Coburn. This is when it really looked like the Bolts would come all the way back to tie it. Kucherov fired a missile off the crossbar off the opening faceoff. He got another good chance from his spot in the right circle but missed the net. Point got a great look in the slot but Binnington made the save.
That power play looked exactly like the ones we’ve seen score in crucial moments so many times this season. But this time, it didn’t happen. The Blues survived and the game started to turn after that.
A couple minutes after the kill, Brayden Schenn got loose in front of the net on a pass from Tarasenko. He had some room at the back post but couldn’t finish the stick handling to get the puck where it needed to go.
The Lightning then got their last chance of the second period to tie the game. Kucherov again rifled one off the post. This chance wasn’t as good as the ones on the power play but he looked frustrated with himself on the bench after the play.
Schenn eventually ended the first comeback with a goal to put the Blues up 4-2. He grabbed a Tarasenko rebound, put the puck between his legs, and pushed a dribbler into the net. Vasilevskiy had his glove on it but couldn’t smother it to the ice after sprawling to get across the net following the original shot.
Things slowed after the Schenn goal. The Lightning continued to push but couldn’t get the quality of chances they generated in the first part of the period. The Blues seemed to settle into a more comfortable pace and made the game more even.
The last good opportunity of the period for either team came to Mikhail Sergachev. He got free on the rush but couldn’t get much on the shot as he skated in on Binnington and in the end, the save was routine.
After 40 minutes, the Lightning had a big lead in shots but still trailed slightly in expected goals.
The third period certainly wasn’t without excitement but it ultimately ended in disappointment for the Lightning. The Bolts came out pressing for a goal to get back in the game. That led to plenty of chances for St. Louis forcing Vasilevskiy to make multiple difficult saves. The first came early in the period for Jayden Schwartz on the rush.
The Lightning got the next few good opportunities and eventually put one in the net. The first chance was for Point. He fired a shot that trickled through Binnington and looked like it might roll into the net. But Alex Pietrangelo cleared it off the line. Then JT Miller deflected a pass from Palat on net but Binngton played it perfectly.
On his next shift, Miller set up the third goal. He fed a nice pass to Stamkos in the slot and the captain ripped it into the net. Miller worked hard to earn the assist as he did much of the work to set up the goal including gaining the zone on a chip and chase and recovering the puck after Erik Cernak broke up an attempted zone exit by the Blues.
After the goal, the Blues continued to get good chances on the counter attack as the Lightning pressed to tie. Vasilevskiy had to make another huge save on Schwartz following a cross ice pass that forced the Bolts goalie to push all the way across his net.
Cirelli nearly tied the game putting a filthy move on Vince Dunn and then trying to go top shelf but Binnington wasn’t having it. David Perron took a bad tripping penalty for the Blues with 6:30 left putting the Lightning on the power play with a chance to tie.
Like clockwork, the top unit did its thing setting up Stamkos for a one-timer that he pummeled into the net to tie the game. Except it didn’t count. The Blues challenged for offside and Point was a hair ahead of the puck’s entry. Not the spirit of the rule but definitely the letter of the law. And that was the end of the comeback for good.
Tampa couldn’t regain their momentum following the offside review and never threatened again on the power play. They did apply some pressure with Vasilevskiy pulled creating a wild scrum in front of the net. The puck popped free to Stamkos who slid it back to Kucherov. He had a line to the net through the bodies but pulled the shot sealing the loss.
After 60 minutes, the Lightning had a big lead in shots and expected goals were basically even.
Just as they have most games this season, the Bolts played well enough to win tonight. But one minute of dominance for St. Louis in the first period was enough to keep them from leaving with any points.
The Blues are one of the best teams in the Western Conference and they showed that tonight keeping pace with the Lightning for all 60 minutes. Tampa fans will point to the offside review as the reason for the loss. And it certainly played a huge part. But this was a close enough game that any number of moments could have been the difference.
The Lightning return home on Monday to face the Bruins before having four days off this week to prepare for the final five games. If they can win that game against Boston on Monday, they’ll have a chance to secure their 60th win of the season in their final home game one week from today against Washington.