It’s one of those stats that made you double check the record books. Until this season, Steven Stamkos did not have a 100-point season in his career. Seems impossible doesn’t it? Well, that is no longer the case as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s captain recorded four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in the team’s 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
It was Stamkos’ fifth straight game with three or more points, a feat the league hasn’t seen since the days of Mario Lemieux. Joining him with multiple points was Nikita Kucherov (1 goal, 3 assists) while Ondrej Palat also scored. Andrei Vasilevskiy was sharp in stopping 20 of 21 shots as Columbus pushed the Lightning a bit more than might have been expected. Elvis Merzlikins stopped 28 of 32 while Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the lone goal for the Blue Jackets.
Let’s go ahead and just look at the three points Stamkos needed to get to the century mark.
That read and pass by Stamkos. That’s a play a confident team makes, because if it goes wrong, it goes wrong in a bad, bad way. He spied Kucherov coming off of the bench and knew he’d be heading to the high slot and put the puck in the spot Kucherov was heading to. If that pass is blocked or picked off, it’s an odd-man rush the other way with the defensemen caught flatfooted in the offensive zone. It was executed to perfection and Kucherov wired the screened shot right past Merzlikins.
Nikita Kucherov (Steven Stamkos, Nick Paul)
A patented Stamkosian one-timer from the circle. The first unit was absolutely buzzing on this power play opportunity and had almost scored a few seconds earlier. The quickness with which they moved the puck around makes it almost impossible to stop. The one-touch pass from Kucherov through a small seam in the middle of the ice makes the play. Merzlikins has to hold just a bit to make sure Point doesn’t cut it off and shoot from the slot. That’s just dash of a second Stamkos needs to rip it home.
Steven Stamkos (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) Power Play
Stamkos has been quick to credit his teammates in helping him reach his individual goals and this point is proof positive as to how nice it is to play with world-class hockey players. Kucherov doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to create turnovers in the offensive zone and here he hounded Vladislav Gavrikov until the young defenseman coughed it up. Stamkos went to open ice and Kucherov put it on his stick.
Steven Stamkos (Nikita Kucherov)
So it was a good night for milestones (Hedman picked up his 600th point on the first Stamkos goal) but was it a good night for the Lightning as a playoff team? Kind of. They won a game convincingly despite not playing their best.
Despite outscoring the Blue Jackets in the first period, Columbus kind of drove play possession-wise a bit. Even with a plethora of blocked shots by the Lightning, Columbus had the advantage in scoring chances and expected goals thanks in part to some loose puck management from the Lightning.
A couple of bad penalties also gave the Blue Jackets power play time and they connected on one of them to tie the game at one early.
Oliver Bjorkstrand (Jack Roslovic, Zach Werenski) Power Play
Another power play later in the period was killed off by the Lightning, but it did cost them a player as Erik Cernak took a puck to the face and left the ice. He would not return to the game. One positive from that is that it gave the coaching staff a little more time to evaluate Zach Bogosian (19:22) and Cal Foote (20:44) as both had quite a bit of ice time.
The second period was better for the Lightning as they controlled the puck a little more and evened up the possession numbers. While the Blue Jackets might have kept pace in terms of shots the Lightning dominated in quality as they posted a 61.85 xGF% at 5v5 according to Natural Stat Trick.
Columbus came out strong in the third period and really pushed back, keeping the puck in the Lightning zone for much of the period. Tampa Bay managed to score against the flow of play as Kucherov picked up yet another assist on a nice play from behind the net. Ondrej Palat cut through the crease at the right time to beat Merzlikins for the fourth Lightning goal of the night. Stamkos had the secondary assist to push his season total to 101.
Ondrej Palat (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos)
Despite the final score it wasn’t a perfect game for the Lightning, but they did enough to win in a game that it had to be hard to find motivation for. One thing the coaching staff will like is that the team did limit the actual shots on net. Despite a lot of possession time and shot attempts (63 total) for Columbus, the shots from dangerous areas tapered off as the game wore on.
When they did get a good look at the net, Vasilevskiy was there to make the saves. Columbus posted an expected goals of 2.45 for the game and Vasy only allowed the one. That’s a pretty good night for a goaltender.
Blocking shots, converting chances including power plays, and getting key saves from your goaltender is usually a pretty good way to succeed in the postseason. There were signs tonight that the Lightning are getting to that style of hockey.