Curtis McElhinney has caught a lot of flack from Lightning fans this season. While his play hasn’t been up to the standards he set as a back-up last season, it’s been the play in front of him that has led to most of the defeats while he’s been in net. On Thursday, he turned the tables and stopped 24 of 25 shots to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Blake Coleman scored twice and Ondrej Palat provided the game-winner as he snapped a 13-game goalless streak. Seth Jones scored a power play goal for Columbus that gave them a first period lead.
We’re mixing the recap up a little tonight. Instead of a traditional review of the game, we’re recapping this one with a running diary. That’s right, our somewhat edited thoughts on the game as they happen in real time.
It’s Curtis McElhinney vs. Elvis Merzlikins. Let’s go!
20:00 - Ten games left in the regular season. Columbus is playing for next year while the Lightning are playing for playoff position. Both teams want to limit the “self-inflicted” problems. That means taking care of the puck and forcing turnovers.
19:59 Annnd we’re off to a rocky start as my Amazon Firestick decides to reset itself just as the puck drops. Flip the game on my phone in time to see David Savard fire a shot on net.
18:15 The first real breakout for the Lightning hits a skate in the neutral zone and caroms back into the Lightning zone. No harm done as the shift ends with an Anthony Cirelli shot on net. The Lightning have played most of the game in Columbus’ zone, but no real dangerous chances just yet. And the TV is working again. Sweet, having to watch the game on a phone would have been annoying.
15:01 Blake Coleman is dumped just as he crosses the blue line and that draws some groans from the crowd. A replay shows that Jack Roslovic tweaked him up pretty good. That’s not a really good play as Coleman has no way to brace himself before he hits the ice. On the brighter side the Lightning have yet to allow a shot on net. Can’t give up goals if you don’t give up shots. Nice game plan.
13:44 Alex Barre-Boulet finds Ondrej Palat with a nice cross ice pass, but the puck is knocked off of Palat’s stick. Really good vision from the rookie. His passing is at an NHL level, he just needs to work on his skating and not getting knocked off of the puck as easily as he has been so far this season.
12:36 The first TV timeout comes as Mikhail Sergachev flings a shot on Merzlirkins. It’s been pretty much all Tampa so far, Columbus had one push with the Alex Texier line, but no real good looks on net. Luke Schenn dumped Max Domi just before the shot from Sergachev. Crowd-exciting hits are now even at one.
12:11 The first odd man rush against as Victor Hedman gets caught deep in the zone and it’s Patrick Laine and Seth Jones, the two players on Columbus you really don’t want to see rushing down the ice. Laine’s backhand pass skipped over Jones’ stick as Erik Cernak lays out to make the pass much more difficult.
11:35. Cool, it’s going to be one of those games. Elvis robs Ryan McDonagh at the backdoor with his right pad. The sequence ends with a crosscheck penalty by Palat. He fires a doublehander right to the small of Mikko Lehtonin’s back and Columbus is on the power play (still no shots on net).
10:42 There’s the first shot as McElhinney gloves a wrister from Oliver Bjorkstrand.
10:24 1-0 Columbus. Seth Jones uncorks a banger from the blueline. His shot hits Alex Killorn’s stick and it changes direction dipping just below McElhinney’s arm and in. Let’s see if Tampa Bay can regain the pressure they had before the penalty.
Seth Jones (Oliver Bjorkstrand, Patrick Laine) Power Play 1-0 Columbus
6:56 A nice save by McElhinney as Columbus enters the zone way too easily. Dean Kuken rips a one-timer on net, but McElhinney is in position to shoulder it aside. Best chance for the Lightning since the McDonagh chance was a slap pass to Barre-Boulet. He was in position to fire a one-timer from close in, but Gavin Bayreuther smothered the shot pretty well.
5:35 It’s been six minutes since the Lightning have had a shot on net. They’ve been dumping the puck into the Columbus zone, but not retrieving it. Columbus has been able to clear it with no problem.
4:28 Brayden Point went down awkwardly from a face-off. He stays on the ice, but took awhile to get up. Domi spun behind him and kicked the back of Point’s leg sending him down. Columbus is now leading in shots. A lot have been from the perimeter, but McElhinney isn’t exactly fielding them cleanly. The Lightning forecheck has been ineffective since the penalty. That’s just a bunch of random thoughts thrown together. Enjoy!
2:21 Dunne and McDonagh are pushing and shoving after McElhinney covers up a shot. Josh Donne came crusing in looking for a loose puck and McD let him know it wasn’t appreciated.
1:23 Seth Jones falls into the Lightning boards awkwardly. He gets up and skates right off.
0.35: Lightning get a little scrambly as they can’t clear the puck. What started as a pretty good period has faded into frustration. The horn sounds with the Lightning down 1-0. According to NHL.com’s gamecenter the last shot on net by the Lightning came with 11:35 left to go in the period. That’s not great.
20:00 The Gourde line is back out to start the middle frame. They really need to get the puck in the Columbus zone and keep it there. If they can get their high-low game working, they should be able to tie this game back up.
18:07 The fourth line has some issues getting the puck out of the zone early in their shift (three turnovers in a row), but once they do, they get the puck in the Columbus zone and have their first sustained pressure since early in the first. Sequence ends as Dunne is whistled for holding on Cernak. Dunne had no stick and Cernak walks him. All Dunne can do is reach out and grab him.
16:57 Brayden Point with a deflection on net and Elvis stays down to keep the puck from sliding under him.
14:45 Ryan McDonagh does a nice job of cutting off Stefan Matteau after McD turned the puck over. He never let Matteau get clear and he swatted it away before the Columbus forward could get a shot off. The Lightning didn’t score on the power play, but they did have a couple of opportunities. They also kept the puck in the zone after the penalty was over.
13:57 Curtis McElhinney was the big save on Jack Roslovic’s breakaway. The Lightning are careless with the pass in the Columbus zone and it’s an easy breakaway from their blue line on. A lot of the issues we’ve seen over the last month are on full display tonight.
12:28 Cernak skates off slowly after a big collision along the boards in the Lightning zone. Looks like Dean Kuken’s stick rode up and clipped him in the mouth.
12:03 The Lightning go on the power play as Kole Sherwood punches Anthony Cirrelli in the helmet during a goal mouth scrum. The ref was staring right at him and didn’t hesitate to call it.
10:33 Elvis stops a redirection from Killorn right at the doorstep. It was a shot-pass right on Killorn’s stick, but Merzlirken’s pad was there to prevent a goal.
8:58 A puck is deflected into the crowd. I’m not going to lie, in terms of excitement level this game is somewhere between sitting at the DMV and doing your taxes. Twenty-two shots on net and only 36 shot attempts between the two teams so far. Columbus is dictating the style of play.
5:09 GOOOOAAAALLLL. Yanni Gourde picks the puck off of Patrick Laine’s stick in the neutral zone.He feeds it over to Blake COleman who rips a shot on net that Elvis misreads. The goalie fired his glove up in the air, but too far and the puck hits under his elbow and goes in.
Blake Coleman (Yanni Goure) 1-1
2:29 McElhinney deflects a puck into the stands. He’s had a decent game. The goal wasn’t really his fault and his stop on Roslovic may be a game-changer. Still, there have been a few extra rebounds that a team with a little more scoring ability might have taken advantage of.
:56 Sergachev toe-drags his way into the high-scoring area and snaps a shot right on net. The Lightning are doing a much better job of keeping the puck in the zone and generating chances on net. Granted, they couldn’t do much worse than they did in the first period.
0:00 The period comes to an end tied at one goal a piece. The Lightning upgraded their play from listless to mildly interested. Columbus has blocked 11 shots in all situations so far tonight. With the lead they were able to sag back and keep pucks out of the middle of the net. The Lightning have to move the puck quicker and cleaner to get them out of their bunker mentality.
20:00 Once again the Gourde line is ready to start the period (after a little repair work by the refs on a divot in the ice). Columbus hasn’t won any of their last seven games. It would be disheartening for the Lightning to get outplayed over the next twenty minutes.
19:25 Nice play by the Lightning off of an offensive zone face-off leads to the puck coming to Point right in front of the net, but he’s unable to get a stick on it.
16:50 Columbus has a flurry of chances with the Roslovic line, but Cernak bodies off a couple of the players to snuff out the offense and the Lightning chip it out of the zone. There seems to be slightly more urgency to the Lightning’s game to start this period, but no goals out of the play yet.
14:48 Colton crashes into the crease as Pat Maroon throws it on net. The rookie was looking for a pass and didn’t realize he was in close and Elvis isn’t too happy about it. Really quick transition play through the neutral zone by Mathieu Joseph to set it up. Bolts need more of that to get Columbus retreating.
12:00 Alex Killorn is in the middle of the ice and falls down on his own. He’s the best.
11:46 GOOOOOOAAAAALLL. Killorn gets the puck behind the net and feeds it to Palat who fires it home. Nice play by Cernak to get the puck into the zone. Are we are going to get a review for something? Killorn did rake his stick across the throat of Elvis, but it was well before the shot from Palat and kind of pushed into the goalie by the Blue Jacket defender. They are not going to review.
Ondrej Palat (Alesx Killor, Erik Cernak)
10:33 Lightning amp up the pressure on net. Columbus is pinned in their own zone but Elvis robs ABB point blank. At this point, Merkikin’s right pad is the number three star of the game.
10:04 Dunne chops at Joseph’s hands in the Lightning zone. That’s a penalty. Quick cut to Torts on the bench. I’ll let you guess how happy he was about that play.
8:59 Pat Maroon with some power play time. Uggh. Cirelli telegraphs a pass back to Sergachev that is read by Eric Robinson. Those are the types of plays that drive coaches nuts.
3:53 The Lightning with a couple of counter-attacks. There is a little more space on the ice as Columbus stretches their play searching for the equalizer. The Blue Jackets had a couple of shots on net, but McElhinney is doing a good job of directing the long-distance shots to safe spaces. His defense is keeping the front of the net pretty clean.
3:32 Cernak closes off Nathan Gerbe just inside the Lightning zone and forces a weak shot on net. His skating has gotten a lot better over the last few seasons. No one is ever going to confuse him for Hedman, but he has surprised a few folks with his quickness, kind of like the drive he made to set up Palat’s goal.
1:23 With an empty net, Laine turns it over in his own zone and Gourde tattoos one off of the post. Hopefully that doesn’t come back to haunt them.
:24.8 GOOOOOOOOOAAAALLL! Coleman from distance! Laine whiffs on a shot and the puck trickles to Coleman. He shuffleboarded it all the way down the ice and splits the uprights for his second goal of the game.
0:00 The Lightning score twice in the third period to pick up an important two points. It wasn’t the prettiest game they’ve played. In fact, it was reminiscent of way too many games over the last two months, but they didn’t let their mistakes beat them. Now they have a weekend off before coming back to wrap up their home stand on Monday.