The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the...... sorry, I can’t do it. We have to have at least one hockey story on this page today. Let’s start over...
The Tampa Bay Lightning entered Monday’s game with the Ottawa Senators with a 16-1-1 record following a loss. Unfortunately for the Senators the Lightning had lost in their previous outing against the Capitals. Tampa Bay made it 17 wins in 19 chances following a loss as they beat Ottawa 5-2 on the road. Nikita Kucherov had three assists and Yanni Gourde scored twice as the Lightning became the third team in NHL history to record 60 wins in a season.
It wasn’t as clean of a win as the final score suggests. A young, plucky Senators’ team coupled with some Lightning carelessness with the puck kept the game close heading into the third period when the talent gap proved to be too much for Ottawa to overcome.
With Victor Hedman out of the line-up with an upper body injury, veteran blueliner and Crash Davis-esque journeyman Cameron Gaunce made his Lightning debut. It marked his 33rd career NHL game and his first appearance since April 9th, 2017 when he played almost 18 minutes for the eventual Stanley Cup winners, Pittsburgh Penguins.
The first period began tied and ended tied. In between there wasn’t too much to get excited for. The Lightning, with the exception of the Point line, didn’t really push offensively too much while Ottawa was playing rather conservative, obviously worried about the Lightning’s ability to counter with speed.
One of those counters almost paid off as the Lightning had the first real chance about six minutes in when Nikita Kucherov slid a slick no look pass to Point and the young center was in on goaltender Craig Anderson at full speed. Christian Jaros recovered in time to dive and knock the puck off of Point’s stick just as he was ready to shoot it.
Midway through the period Tyler Johnson was penalized for backchecking as he harassed Oscar Lindberg through the neutral zone. The officials thought he got a little too much stick-on-hand action and Johnson was called for hooking. It did the Senators absolutely no good as they did not have a shot on goal during the entire man-advantage.
The Bolts did pick up their play a little following the penalty and found the back of the net first. Yanni Gourde began the play by roaring into the zone. Christian Wolanin did a good job of shielding him away from the net, but Point won the puck behind the goaltender and circled around until he spied Kucherov rushing down the far wall. A quick cross-ice pass found the Russian and everyone on the ice focused on him.
The only problem, they all forgot about Gourde who posted himself up just outside the crease. Kucherov saw him and threaded a puck through where all Gourde had to do was tap it into an empty net. Which he did.
As the period wore on, the Senators started to press the play a little bit. Andrei Vasilevskiy had to make a nice stop on Anthony Duclair on a stuff attempt behind the net. The offense kept coming and the shots started to pile up a bit in Ottawa’s favor. With just a minute to go Brady Tkachuk skated to the top of the right circle and snapped a wrister through the Lightning goaltender to tie the game.
The second period did not end tied. It was the Lightning exerting their dominance that allowed them to gain the lead. Although, they were a bit sluggish coming out of the gates. A couple of failed clears led to Ottawa having an extended shift before Kucherov was able to deflect it out of play.
Despite the extended time in the zone, the only real chance the Senators had was a smart play by Tkachuk. The rookie circled behind the Lightning net and acted as if he might pass the puck through the crease, but instead tried to beat Vasilevskiy on the short side. The goalie was wise to the attempt and held the post.
If sloppy passing and an inability to control the puck in the offensive zone wasn’t enough, Gaunce fired a shot that failed to reach the Ottawa netminder. The reason - the puck hit Steven Stamkos in the left elbow/forearm and stung the captain. He was in discomfort as he skated to the bench and was flexing his arm.
This is the 2018-19 Lightning though. Wound one forward and the next line steps up. The Point line came out and spent their entire shift in the zone and set up the next Lightning goal. Braydon Coburn fired the puck wide of the net and the rebound came to Kucherov who worked it back to Mikhail Sergachev. The young blueliner walked the puck along the blue line and let a wrist shot go from the top of the slot. Craig Anderson was screened and never saw it go by him.
The Lightning were slowly taking over the game and a Brian Gibbons’ trip on Ondrej Palat kept the momentum going. While the team didn’t record a shot on net, they looked like their old selves with Sergachev taking Victor Hedman’s spot at the point. Point almost had his 41st goal after some nifty passing left him alone between the circles. His quick shot rang off the post.
After a brief moment of Ottawa offense, the Point line was back at it. Kucherov fired a shot that went off the boards and bounced to the right of Anderson. Gourde corralled it and sent a nifty backhand pass in front of the net where Point poked it past Anderson for the goal.
Ottawa had a few chances, but they were mostly on pinned back. Gibbons had a partial breakaway but Jan Rutta rushed back and bodied him off of the puck. It was right back to the offense after that.
The Lightning had another power play at the end of the period that didn’t end in a goal but once again featured their outstanding passing. Stamkos had the best chance but his shot went off the side of the net. Even without getting that many shots on their two power plays the Lightning outshot the Senators 10-4 in the period.
The Lightning needed a shut down third period to close out the game and after a little excitement early in the period they did it. Ottawa had absolutely no room to move with the puck over the last 10 minutes of the game as the Lightning swarmed them in the neutral zone and the any time they even thought about entering the offensive zone.
There were some sparks early in the period for the Senators, though. Cameron Gaunce and Zack Smith exchanged some slashes and crosschecks before agreeing to exchange some punches. The newest member of the Bolts handled himself well, but Smith won by decision due to his successful body work. Unfortunately for the Lightning the refs also gave Gaunce a slashing call so the Sens had a power play.
They cashed in. While they did have a decent amount of time in the zone, it was a very nice individual effort that led to the goal. Max Veronneau, just signed out of college and playing in his ninth NHL game, skated in to Vasilevskiy’s left. There was no pass across the crease available as the Lightning defense had it covered, but there was a sliver of open space between the crossbar and Vasilevskiy’s left shoulder. He bounced the puck off of the side of the goalie’s helmet and over the shoulder and in.
The hint of a comeback was in the air for almost one entire minute. Braydon Coburn spied Gourde open at the far blueline. His pass was perfect and Gourde broke in alone on Anderson. The veteran goalie managed to get a glove on the shot, but not enough as it popped up and over and in to the net.
With the two-goal lead restored, the Lightning started to clamp down on the Senators. The opportunities were few and far between. Vasilevskiy had to make a nice right pad save on a tricky Anthony Duclair wrister, but that was about it.
The one shot the Senators got following that chance led to the Lightning’s fifth and final goal. A shot from Cody Ceci was stopped by Vasilevskiy. Ryan McDonagh collected the rebound and sent it up to Ondrej Palat. The winger brought it through the neutral zone and dished it to Mathieu Joseph. The rookie took one stride, just enough to draw Thomas Chabot towards him. That left Stamkos wide open and Joseph slid the puck over to him. The captain wristed it over Anderson’s glove for his 42nd goal of the season.
The final three minutes was uneventful as the Lightning called off the dogs and the Senators weren’t interested in pulling the goal for a chance to get closer. The Lightning collected their 60th win of the season.
- It was another milestone night for Nikita Kucherov. He passes Vincent Lecavalier for most road points in a season with 63. He was also the first player in the NHL to reach 125 points since Joe Thornton did it in 2005-06. They are the only players to hit that mark in the salary cap era.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy appeared in his 207th game for the Lightning. That moves him past Daren Puppa and behind just Ben Bishop who played in 227 games for the Bolts.
- With their 60th win, the Lightning match the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens with 60 wins. That is the second most ever trailing just the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings who had 62. If the Lightning win out they can pass the Red Wings. They also have the chance to pass the Canadiens tomorrow on Montreal’s home ice.
- Cameron Gaunce played 12:07 in his Lightning debut and acquitted himself rather well. He had the fight, one shot and two hits. He was active in the offensive zone and paired well with Jan Rutta.
- McDonagh (25:09) and Erik Cernak (23:14) led all skaters in ice time and were a pretty strong pair.
- Sergachev took Hedman’s spot on the power play and looked to do a little more passing than the big Swede normally does, but still kept the puck movement flowing rather cleanly. He had a nifty behind the back pass that set up an opportunity and kept the Senators guessing which direction he was going to send it on a couple of occasions.
- Beau Halkidis made his NHL debut in the game. His name may seem familiar. His father Bob suited up for the Lightning for 30 games between 1994 and 1996 scoring 1 goal and adding three assists. His goal - against the Ottawa Senators on March 2nd 1995.
Raw Charge Three Stars of the Game
3 - Mikhail Sergachev - 1 goal, 1 assist
2 - Yanni Gourde - 2 goals
1 - Nikita Kucherov - 3 assists