Game 82: Tampa Bay Lighning at Winnipeg
And in the end the love you take
Is equal to the love you make
-- The Beatles, "The End", 1969
And what an end, indeed. The Tampa Bay Lightning have closed out their 2011-12 season with a 4-3 overtime win over Winnipeg.
The stage was set for this game to be a grand finale or a grand goat of a game for the Bolts: losers of their past two during their final road trip of the season, the team was worn out from travel and back-to-back games earlier in the week in Montreal and Toronto.
But of course there was a great motivation that was in all the players minds. That of a challenge laying about for a young teammate. A sixtieth goal of the season for #91, Steven Stamkos.
Now all they had to do was help him earn the damn thing. The challenge, of course, was to accomplish it in the hostile environs of MTS Center in Winnipeg, and find a way around Ondrej Pavelec in net for the former-Thrasher franchise.
The game started in a way that seemed reminiscent of other Lightning/Winnipeg games this season: the Lightning made quick attempts on the Winnipeg net, and Winnipeg would do what they could to control the game by controlling the puck. While there would be chippiness at times from both teams, the tone was far from the hate-fest that had erupted last week when the teams played at Times Palace in Tampa.
The fans in the stands in MTS Center did their part to impress upon viewers at home they could appreciate hockey (just as long as the hockey was played by the team that represents their own city): They booed Steven Stamkos with each possession of the puck. The gauntlet was being thrown down once again for a team that had been riddled with adversity all season.
They've learned to eat that stuff for breakfast.
With focus on Stamkos and the dynamics of his line pairings, Winnipeg learned that the Bolts can have contributions from a second line when captain Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell are paired together. Teddy opened scoring in the waning moments of the 1st period. His shot coming directly off a faceoff won on the right faceoff dot by Lecavalier.
The Lecavalier/Purcell duo would strike again early in the 2nd period, with Vinny passing cross-ice from the right to Purcell zooming on to the net from the left, slapping the shot home where Ondrej Pavelec was vulnerable.
That's when Winnipeg decided to stop playing passive and started to take things to the Lightning all on their own. Nik Antropov opened scoring for the former-Thrashers midway through the 2nd. Winnipeg would apply a ton of pressure in the Tampa Bay zone for much of the period - amassing 15 shots (compared to Tampa's 6).
For a moment, early in the third, you had stopped wondering about #91 and focused on the efforts by Albert Dwayne Roloson in the Tampa Bay net and Ondrej Pavelec on the opposite end of the ice. Both goalies performed well for their teams in both ends. The resurrection of Roloson was on display yet again for the early part of this game...
But just as you got lost in a goalie duel, the strike came. The numbers rolled and 59 became 60.
In a play that looked much like what Nik Antropov had pulled with his goal in the 2nd period, Brian Lee fed a pass from behind the net to Stamkos, who was skating through the slot.
And history was made.
There was rejoicing, and the hockey world had Seen Stamkos for the 60th time this season.
The pressure is off! The benchmark achieved! Let's rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoi--
Hello, Jim Slater! Winnipeg scored to pull within a goal of the Bolts... And with so much time left in the period, too.
Dwayne Roloson faced a total of 12 shots in the third (and 31 total by the conclusion of the game), and unfortunately two of them went in. Both by Slater. The second coming with less than a minute to play in regulation.
If you were like me, you were deflated by this. This was more than you expected - the game, the season, was at its final seconds and yet things were to continue with the great unknown of overtime? After the euphoria of 60? After the heroics of Roloson through much of the game? Say it ain't so?
It was so, sadly. Tampa Bay's season was continued for the eternity of 68 seconds.
68 seconds was all it took in overtime for the season to conclude - in the best way possible. Teddy Purcell took a feed from Victor Hedman and ended the season with a hat trick and with a win for the Lightning.
It's worth noting the Tampa Bay power play, while scoreless in this contest, seemed more patient and fluid than it had for much of the season. That's likely an aberration for the special team's unit that performed well below expectations all season long. The Bolts ended the season with a 15.2% conversion rate on the power play.
J.T. Brown was named an All-American during the NCAA Frozen Four that was being played back in Tampa during this game. Brown also recorded his first assist of his career (part of Teddy Purcell's second goal of the game). Quite a night for the former collegiate standout.
...And quite a night for the Norfolk Admirals as well. Let me just say it in simplicity: 25's a fluke! Now, 26? 26 in-a-row would be a streak. The Ads will attempt to achieve that next week, on the road, during their own season finale.
4-3 the final at MTS Center. The Tampa Bay Lightning season concludes.... And unlike the song cited at the begining of this game recap, the band is not going to call it quits. Nope. But the next record doesn't come out until October. Stay tuned.