After getting embarrassed in their previous game 7-2 by the Nashville Predators, the Tampa Bay Lightning showed signs of life this evening in their 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Outplayed for large swaths of the game, the Lightning did just enough to get by their division rival and lock in another critical two points in the standings. Alex Killorn, Ross Colton, and Victor Hedman scored for Tampa Bay. Patric Hornqvist and Anthony Duclair scored for Florida. Andrei Vasilevskiy had another stellar game in net with 36 saves on 38 shots. Chris Driedger made 16 saves on 19 shots.
Entering tonight’s game, Hedman put it bluntly, “I have to be better. It starts with me.” The end result supports Hedman’s statement, however, for long stretches of time, it felt as though the Lightning were chasing this game, especially in the first period. Outshot 13-4 and trailing 1-0 after the first period can be considered fortunate given how ineffective the Lightning was at dictating play.
If it wasn’t for Vasilevskiy’s play the score could’ve easily been 3-0 after 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, even the best goaltender in the NHL can’t stop every goal.
Tampa Bay did surge back during the second period and eventually tied it on a power-play goal from Alex Killorn at 13:28. This was Killorn’s first goal in 10 games, a welcome sight to see for Tampa Bay’s scoring woes. Also, what a brilliant pass by Vasilevskiy to set this goal up. Never underestimate a goaltender who can fling a saucer pass perfectly onto a teammate's stick halfway down the rink.
There was still a sense of unease while watching this game. As if the Lightning were still figuring out how to snap out of this slump that has plagued them for weeks. The pressure Florida applied was amplified by an early power-play in the third period, but Vasilevskiy stood tall once again to keep Tampa Bay in the game.
The Lightning didn't help themselves much after the penalty kill with the sheer amount of odd-man rushes allowed. Tampa Bay has, overall, been a stout defensive team this season, but these past few weeks would have you think otherwise. Bad reads, bad positioning, bad passing; you name it, it’s been an issue for Tampa Bay on the backend.
However, unlike the debacle in Nashville, Tampa Bay persevered. They slowed down their pace and focused on connecting passes more effectively to maintain offensive zone pressure. Shortly after Duclair’s goal, a familiar face gave Tampa Bay the boost they needed.
Whatever Colton is eating for breakfast needs to be shared with the rest of the team. The rookie has been on an unbelievable hot streak to start his NHL career (8 goals, 3 assists in 17 games), and the Lightning has needed his timely goal-scoring time and time again. Let’s just hope that the rest of the team will break out of their funk before Colton’s hot streak runs out.
After a frenetic finish to regulation, these rivals went to overtime to settle things, and it was there that a glimmer of hope morphed into a light at the end of the tunnel.
Hedman said it starts with him in improving Tampa Bay’s play, and there is no better way to reinforce that statement than by scoring the crucial game-winner against a division rival when his team needed something positive to happen after weeks of poor play. Hedman wasn’t at his best tonight (23-20 in shot attempts, and breaking even in expected goals), but he battled and kept his team in the game at crucial junctures, like a 2-on-1 he snuffed out in the early going of the third period by taking away the slot.
With Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov out of the lineup, it falls on Hedman to bear the full weight of leadership on this Lightning team. The Big Swede stepped up when Tampa Bay needed him the most. Now the rest of the team needs to meet his level if the Lightning wants to maintain their status as the best team in the NHL.