It most definitely wasn’t the ending that head coach Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay Lightning wanted but last night’s 4-3 loss in overtime was still the best game the Bolts have played against the Pittsburgh Penguins all year. And that by itself certainly stands for something.
It was one more point added to the postseason pot of points the Bolts have been doing very well at accruing lately in the last eight games, and it goes to further prove the great amount of improvement the franchise has already made in this 2013-14 season alone towards keeping up with the big dogs of the National Hockey League.
However last night’s game also illustrated the gap between the way the Lightning play and the way the elite teams (such as Pittsburgh and the Boston Bruins) play, and that gap makes all the difference if the Bolts ever hope to truly catch up and hang with those elite teams of the Eastern Conference (to say nothing of West) and win games against them on the regular.
Improvement is improvment. And jumping up from last year’s third-to-last in the league to currently being ranked ninth in all of the NHL (third in the East behind the Bruins and the Pens), with only three weeks or so left in the regular season, is no small feat. That alone is amazing. And worth applauding for.
But last night, after watching the game and seeing how well the Lightning played, you can’t help but wonder if the Bolts didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with all the penalties, giving probably the best power play unit in the NHL the advantage of winning that game rather easily. If the Bolts hadn’t given up nearly as many power plays, maybe say cut the six the gave up to half, you could be looking at an entirely different outcome.
Every game the Lightning has faced the Pens has been a hard fought, close affair, with penalities and power play goals allowed being the deciding factor agaisnt Tampa Bay. With maybe the exception of the Nov. 29 game at home, the other two times the Bolts faced the Pens have been extremely well-played games by the Bolts with PPG’s given up being all that stood in the way of the Lightning winning or at least getting a point.
And if not for Ondrej Palat‘s heroics late in the third period last night, the Bolts wouldn’t have even gotten the lone point they did. Which honestly was huge. HUGE.
Palat had been strangely absent over the last few games. Great to see him come back in a BIG way and pretty much carry the team on his back to OT. We owe that point solely on Palat’s skill and determination.
You just CANNOT let the Pens get the man-advantage and expect to beat them. Not unless your penality kill is equally as top-notch. And the Bolts have some work to do on that special team (as well as with their PP unit).
Onwards the Bolts go from here, with like a 99.999999% chance of making the playoffs at this point.
I’m liking those odds.