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Tampa Bay Lightning snap losing streak in 3-2 win over Columbus Blue Jackets

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This one is no April Fools joke!

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered Thursday night’s game on a three-game losing streak facing the Columbus Blue Jackets. They played well in Tuesday night’s match-up with Columbus, but couldn’t solve Elvis Merzlikins. They faced him again on Thursday night looking for a better outcome. The Lightning also lost defenseman Jan Rutta to injury on Tuesday, but were reinforced for this game by the return of Ryan McDonagh. Andrei Vasilevskiy also returned to the net.

One other change of note was the swap of Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson. Gourde had moved up to the first line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat late in Tuesday’s game and opened up the game playing on the top line. Tyler Johnson moved to center the third line with Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. I liked when Johnson was playing with them a handful of games together and I think it’s a good place for him to be. Those two are very straight forward, north-south players. When Johnson was at his best in his career, he was one of those type of players too. By playing with them, they force him to also push the pace up and down the ice.

First Period

The Lightning started the first period pretty poorly. They couldn’t replicate the start they had from Tuesday or the sustained pressure they put on the Blue Jackets in the last couple periods. Up to the first commercial break, the Lightning only managed one shot attempt while Columbus put seven shots toward the net. The Lightning also had to survive a two-on-one with Victor Hedman taking away the pass option and Vasilevskiy forcing the shot wide by cutting down the angle.

Ross Colton drew the first penalty of the game for a Lightning power play. Up to this point, the fourth line has been rolling and putting pressure on in the offensive zone. Colton has really rounded out this line and fits well with their identity.

During the power play, Victor Hedman had a pass bounce over his stick at the line that led to a breakaway for Columbus. Vasilevskiy made the first save and then the follow up save. Stamkos turned it back into a rush the other. Columbus intercepted a pass by Stamkos just after he entered the zone. Fortunately for the Lightning, that Columbus player had jumped on too soon and the linesmen called it a Too Many Men penalty to send the Lightning to a 5-on-3 power play for 1:02.

After initially losing the draw, the Lightnign re-entered the zone, moved it around with a few passes. Brayden Point received the puck back from Stamkos at the side of the net and banked it into the net off the side of Merzlikins to open the scoring and snap his four-game pointless and goalless streak to put the Lightning up 1-0.

Point (14) power play goal assisted by Stamkos (16) and Hedman (28).

The Lightning finished out the first period solidly. Vasilevskiy had to make a couple good saves, but the Lightning did a good job of keeping the Blue Jackets to the outside. On the other hand, the Lightning did well through the latter part of the period to get to the front of the net. That was something they really struggled with on Tuesday. That point was even brought up to Point during his first intermission interview and he mentioned how good Columbus is at boxing guys out at the front of the net.

Second Period

The Lightning started off the second period much like they finished the first period. They attacked the puck and the net while limiting Columbus’ time with the puck. One downside of the way the Lightning played though was giving up several odd man rushes. The Lightning played them well with a couple being broken up by good sticks or back checks and Vasilevskiy cleaning up the ones that did make it on net.

After the strong start, the Lightning started to backslide as the period went along. The Blue Jackets tied it up almost half way into the period. A shot from the outside led to a rebound right in front and a second rebound change for Zach Werenski with Vasilevskiy down and out.

After allowing that rebound goal, the threat didn’t let up from the Blue Jackets. Vasilevskiy was asked over and over to make big saves. The Lightning had no answer for the Blue Jackets in the second period and couldn’t find a momentum changing shift from any of their lines. It looked like they were maybe getting that kind of shift from the second line, with Killorn and Cirelli throwing some hits. However, Killorn got called for slashing in the neutral zone to send the Lightning to the penalty kill for the first time in the game.

The penalty kill almost ended 30 seconds into it. With Vasilevskiy down and out after a save, Columbus tried to tuck it in behind his leg. What they got instead of a goal was a surprise Hedman stick save. The Lightning did better through the rest of the penalty kill only allowing one really good scoring chance. This was a big penalty kill with how poorly the Lightning were playing in the period.

The next shift after the penalty kill, Brayden Point coming out of his defensive zone corner tried to cut back to the middle of the ice and caught a stick in his feet. That caught the referees attention and sent the Lightning to the power play with 1:26 on the clock in the period. Stamkos hit the crossbar on a shot. Then Point followed up with another crossbar of his own after Ondrej Palat set him up in the slot. Shortly after, the horn blew on the period.

The Lightning were lucky to come out of the second period with the game tied at 1-1.

Third Period

The Lightning began the third period with 34 seconds of power play, but the Lightning couldn’t do anything with the short amount of time remaining to start the period. Jon Cooper also swapped Gourde and Johnson for the third period.

After the Lightning had a solid start to the first half of the period, the Blue Jackets were the ones that were able to find the back of the net first in the third. A pass up from Columbus’ zone to Eric Robinson allowed him to get in behind Cal Foote. He made his move to the net and was just able to flip a shot through the gap between Vasilevskiy’s arm and chest to find the back of the net for the 2-1 lead.

With the Lightning down a goal, who did they turn to for a spark? The fourth line of course. Joseph collected the puck and got the rush started to Ross Colton. Colton moved up the left wing side and gave it to Maroon. Maroon didn’t have much room once he entered the zone so he just dropped it off for Colton. Colton had speed, took the puck to the faceoff dot and ripped an absolute laser to the far post to tie the game back up at 2-2.

Colton (3) goal assied by Maroon (10) and Joseph (6).

With the Lightning tied, who did they turn to for a spark? The first line of course. Palat flopped a pass up into the zone for Point to pick up. He had Johnson driving the net and tried to backhand a pass across the top of the crease after getting around the sliding defenseman. The puck never made it to Johnson. It did go off the defenseman’s stick though and hit the twine for Point’s second goal of the game and the 3-2 lead for the Lightning.

Point (15) goal assisted by Palat (20) and Johnson (9).

Columbus was aggressive in pulling Merzlikins from the net with almost three minutes left on the clock and a Lightning zone faceoff. The Lightning did a great job of keeping the puck to the outside. They also got at least three clears where they put the perfect weight on the puck to keep it from being icing. The Lightning got a couple shots at the empty net, including Coleman in the last 30 seconds clearing the puck and hitting the post, which prevented an icing.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened after that though. Bally Sports Sun (no, I don’t like the name change) switched to a center ice scoreboard camera pointed at the Columbus net as Coleman’s puck was going down the ice. We saw it hit the post and then didn’t see much else. It looked like there was a bit of a scrum, or at least puck battle down in the corner for the puck that kept Columbus from getting any more chances at the net. This view did allow us to see first Zach Werenski and then Nick Foligno snap their sticks on the goal posts. I must say that was pretty delicious.

Conclusions

This was a pretty up and down game for the Lightning. They did some good things in the first period, but were only able to score on a five-on-three power play. In the second period, they kind of let things fall apart and gave Columbus all the momentum. Big props to Vasilevskiy for shutting things down in the second period and only allowing the one rebound goal. The Lightning refound some momentum in the third period. Despite going down 2-1 in the third period, they didn’t give up.

Once again, the fourth line were big contributors to the game getting that tying goal despite not having the greatest possession numbers in the game. It was really good to see Brayden Point get out of his funk. He had gotten into a rut where he wasn’t shooting the puck much and it seemed like the puck was not on his stick a lot. The past couple games, he’s gotten out of that and was rewarded with two goals. They weren’t the prettiest, and he also had a great power play shot go off the crossbar, but you’ll take them any way you can get them.

My three stars of the night are Brayden Point, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Ross Colton. The media agreed with my assessment awarding the same stars.