The Tampa Bay Lightning suffered an uncharacteristic 7-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators, taking a hard blow heading into the final 12 games of the season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning truly needed to make a statement tonight. In the last eight games, seven games have gone to overtime or a shootout. As the Lightning forge their path to the postseason, the team truly needed to find a way to be stingy with their points and not give away freebies to their opponents.
This means the Lightning would need to give a complete effort against their Atlantic Division opponents, the Ottawa Senators, as they invaded the Sunshine State. In the opening minutes of the game, the Lightning looked much like they did on March 8 against the New York Rangers. Unfortunately, after the first 10 minutes of play, things would start to look significantly different.
Just over four minutes into the first period, the Lightning would strike first blood with a goal from J.T. Miller. Nikita Kucherov would feed Miller from behind the net and Miller would do an excellent job of finishing the play, firing the puck past Senators netminder Mike Condon and into the back of the net.
Regrettably, this would be the end of the good news for the 20 minutes of play. The Lightning would then be hit with not one, not two, but three unanswered goals. The first of these goals would come from Magnus Paajarvi. Andrei Vasilevskiy would make the initial save, but was caught off guard by the rebound.
Right before the nine-minute mark in the game, the Lightning would find themselves on the Penalty Kill as Anthony Cirelli would be headed to the sin bin for two minutes Hooking. This would open the door for Ryan Dzingel to retake the lead for the Senators. Less than a minute later, the Lightning would find themselves at a two-goal deficit as Sens forward Tom Pyatt managed to put the puck in the back of the net.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning would finish off the period on the Power Play as Alexandre Burrows would be sent off for two minutes for Interfering with Miller. The Lightning wouldn’t be able to capitalize heading into the end of the period, but they would have a little over 20 seconds of Power Play time left when they returned for the 2nd.
The Lightning came out of the tunnel looking like they were ready to play. Unfortunately, after the first 10 minutes of the game, the Lightning seemed to fall back into their old habits, allowing the Senators to essentially walk all over them and bombard Vasilevskiy. This is something the Bolts would definitely need to bring to an abrupt stop before the start of the second.
Business picked up for the Bolts a little bit in the opening moments of the second period. After the Power Play carryover from the 1st period came to a close, the Lightning would get another crack at the Power Play as Magnus Paajarvi was sent off for two minutes for Tripping Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.
This would afford J.T. Miller the opportunity to pick up his second goal of the night Miller’s goals aren’t always the prettiest, but that’s ok. Miller is one of those players who can make goals from the dirty places and make opposing goaltenders really work to make a save. This is definitely an asset to the Lightning roster.
Unfortunately, Miller’s second goal of the night would be followed by a duo of goals from the Senators. The first came from Marian Gaborik and the second came from the stick of Mike Hoffman. While the defense certainly hasn’t done the Lightning any favors tonight, Vasilevskiy’s fatigue is really starting to show. This is not something the Lightning wants to be dealing with once the playoffs start.
As the halfway point in the period passed, the Lightning would strike once again. J.T. Miller would pick up his first hat trick as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning and brought the game back to a two-goal game. Unfortunately, the celebration would be short-lived as Sens defenseman Erik Karlsson would pick up his 8th goal of the season to bring the score to 6-3 in favor of the Sens.
When the Lightning returned to the ice for the third period, Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to put Peter Budaj between the pipes in lieu of Andrei Vasilevskiy. There are definitely a handful of goals Vasy should’ve had, but with little to no help in front of the net, it’s kind of hard to get where you need to be.
Regrettably, it wouldn’t be long before Budaj would feel the sting of the puck sailing past him and into the back of the net. This would come from the stick of Sens forward Mike Hoffman, who picked up his second goal of the night. This would bring the score to 7-3 in favor of the Ottawa Senators.
Just under three minutes past the halfway point in the third, the Lightning would pick up their fourth goal of the night. This would come courtesy of defenseman Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh’s goal would serve as his first as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning and his third of the season.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 10-game point streak would come to an end as the Ottawa Senators defeated the Bolts 7-4. Disappointment is probably just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the feeling permeating through the Bolts Nation.
The Tampa Bay Lightning played a pretty weak game tonight. As much as that sentence truly hurt to say, the truth more often than not cuts deep. On the bright side, this is not the end of the world. The Lightning is still in a solid position to make their way to the postseason and there are plenty of games remaining on the schedule for the Bolts to pick up the points they need to guarantee their spot.
Where things will turn into a dumpster fire is if this kind of play turns into a pattern. The offense did their part tonight. The Bolts put 46 shots on goal through 60 minutes, creating four goals. On the flip side, the defense offered little assistance to their netminders and the fatigue of Andrei Vasilevskiy is starting to show.
Before anyone thinks this is a slight on Andrei Vasilevskiy, allow us to assure you, it is not. A goaltender can only do so much. At some point, it is the responsibility of the defense to keep the puck away from the net and headed out of the zone. This is something that simply didn’t happen enough in tonight’s loss.
The Lightning has a tough challenge in front of them; a challenge which could have some serious implication on the Lightning’s road to the postseason. On Saturday night, the Lightning takes on the Boston Bruins. As most Bolts fans know by now, the Bruins are just four points behind the Bolts in the Atlantic Division.
A loss to the Bruins, in regulation or overtime, would bring the Bruins one step closer to overtaking the Lightning in the standings. While this wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, as the Lightning would still have a path to the postseason, teams definitely want the little thing known as momentum on their side when the regular season comes to a close.