Like a palm tree in a storm, the Tampa Bay Lightning bent but never broke as they surrounded leads twice against the Vegas Golden Knights, but emerged with a 4-2 victory on Tuesday night. Brayden Point had a goal and an assist while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27 of 29 shots to earn his league-leading 27th victory on the year.
It was the first home game for the Lightning since January 14th and while they won, their play was a bit ragged. While their offense did put up four goals (thanks empty net!) Vegas was the better skating team for most of the night and had most of the good scoring chances. Vasilevskiy was the difference in the game as he made several key stops throughout the night. With the victory he tied Nikolai Khabibulin’s team record of 16 straight games with a point. He hasn’t lost in regulation since December 14th.
The beauty of being an insanely talented offensive team is that the Lightning can get outplayed and still emerge with the lead after twenty minutes. Vegas had the better of the play for most of the first period as Max Pacioretty (twice) and Will Carrier had clean looks at the net. Pacioretty’s first chance was a wide-open tap-in that he somehow put just wide.
Not only were the Lightning getting outchanced for the first half of the period, they were also down a defenseman after Jan Rutta left the game favoring his right leg following a collision along the boards. Vegas forward Nicolas Roy lost an edge skating over to the play and rolled into the back of Rutta’s legs. The big defenseman folded down to the ice awkwardly and had to be helped off the ice.
They are the Lightning, though and despite getting outshot 6-1 in the first ten minutes it was Brayden Point slinging home a wrist shot from the slot that opened the scoring eleven minutes into the game. The Lightning took advantage of a bad clear by Vegas and Point picked a spot to beat Marc-Andre Fleury. It was the young center’s first goal in eleven games.
Eventually Tampa Bay’s casual approach to defense cost them as Carrier took a pass from Brayden McNabb and fired a screened shot past Vasilevskiy from the slot.
The tie game lasted about two minutes. Anthony Cirelli won a face-off in the offensive zone and the puck was worked back from the boards. Ondrej Palat threaded a pass to the top of the slot and Cirelli deflected it off of Tyler Johnson and past Fleury to restore the lead.
Fifteen shots, no one scored.
The Golden Knights dictated play early in the period and were rewarded when Paul Stastny deflected a shot from the point past Vasilevskiy and inside the post to tie the game just 3:30 into the period.
It looked like momentum was swinging Vegas’ way and the Lightning’s 22-0-4 record when leading after when leading after two periods might be in jeopardy, but Vasilevskiy remained solid in net long enough for the Lightning to take the lead once again. This time it was Steven Stamkos deflecting a shot from Point for the go-ahead (and eventual game-winning goal).
Like much of the game, the third period was a bit of a defensive battle with much of the play staying on the outside. There was a brief moment of open play when Victor Hedman and Patches used their fists instead of their words to decide a disagreement. In the ensuing four-on-four, the ice opened up a bit and the teams traded solid scoring chances.
Down a goal with two minutes to play the Golden Knights pulled Fleury for the extra skater. They generated a solid chance right off the bat as Stastny deflected a shot just wide, but the Lightning eventually made them pay.
Vegas tried to carry the puck in along the boards but were jammed up. The puck was knocked to center ice where Alex Killorn, shot out of a metaphorical cannon, raced onto the puck and easily skated it into the empty net for his career-best 21st goal of the season.
It wasn’t their best game of the season, but the Lightning showed off just enough skill to remain undefeated against the Pacific division this season. They return to the ice on Thursday for a match-up against the truck driving Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Brayden Point (Nikita Kucherov, Erik Cernak): 1-0 Lightning
William Carrier (Brayden McNabb, Cody Eakins): Tied 1-1
Tyler Johnson (Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat): 2-1 Lightning
Paul Stastny (Jonathan Marchessault, Brayden McNabb): Tied at 2
Steven Stamkos (Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov): 3-2 Lightning
Alex Killorn (Ondrej Palat) Empty Net: 4-2 Lightning
Empty Netters don’t get highlights (unless scored by goaltenders).