The Tampa Bay Lightning came back from a 3-0 deficit in the second period to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 to finish off their eight-game homestand.
The Tampa Bay Lightning definitely had momentum on their side coming into tonight’s battle against Atlantic Division rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. After an unfortunate performance against the Boston Bruins on March 17, the Lightning responded with a solid victory over the Edmonton Oilers the following night.
At the same time, the Leafs have quite a bit of momentum on their side as well. The Maple Leafs won their last four consecutive games, including a 4-0 shutout victory over the Montreal Canadiens on St. Patrick’s Day.
There was one aspect of tonight’s encounter that heavily favored the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was announced earlier this afternoon Lightning forward Ondrej Palat would make his return to the lineup after missing 26 games with a Lower-Body Injury he sustained on January 20 against the Minnesota Wild.
Ondrej Palat may not be the Lightning’s leading goal scorer like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, but he is a solid, well-rounded player who can do just about anything on the ice. There was a definite disparity between the 46 games he’s played this season and the 26 games the Bolts have played in his absence.
Things got off to a rather slow start at the Amalie Arena tonight. Through the halfway point in the first period, the Lightning and Maple Leafs accounted for a total of 10 shots on goal. These shots were split right down the middle, so neither team had a real advantage over the other.
Tampa Bay Lightning
In the final six minutes of the period, the Lightning defense seemed to really lean on goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. They allowed the Maple Leafs far too much time in the defensive zone and Vasilevskiy was forced to make a number of big saves to keep the Leafs out of the back of the net.
Unfortunately, even the best goaltenders eventually break under constant pressure. Almost a minute after a delayed penalty against the Lightning was called; the Maple Leafs would strike first blood with a goal from James van Riemsdyk. This was van Riemsdyk’s 32nd goal of the season.
It wasn’t long before something happened that stung the Tampa Bay Lightning and their fans far more than the goal by van Riemsdyk. During an altercation between Ryan Callahan and Josh Leivo, Immediately after the scuffle was broken up, Callahan skated off the ice holding his shoulder.
Cally didn’t even stop at the bench. Instead, he went right down the tunnel and back to the Lightning locker room. When he didn’t return immediately, the penalty Cally was assessed was served by Adam Erne.
Callahan did not return to the ice for the remainder of the first period. As one can easily imagine, the Bolts Nation was on the edge of their seats waiting to hear an update on Callahan’s condition.
The Lightning found themselves on their first official Penalty Kill of the night towards the end of the first period as Kucherov was sent to the sin bin for Holding against Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly. The Lightning would start off the second period with a little over a minute left on the Leafs Power Play.
What started off on an even keel was quickly transformed into an unmistakable advantage for the Maple Leafs. After putting some serious pressure on the Bolts in the final minutes of the period, the Leafs outshot the Lightning 12-6 through the first 20 minutes of play.
Surprisingly enough, the Lightning would control the faceoff circle 53-47. The Lightning has struggled in the faceoff circle for a good portion of the season, so it’s nice to see the Bolts taking charge as they head into the final 10 games of the season.
What started out as a “not-so-bad” first period transformed into a not-so-great second period. With just one second left on the penalty to Nikita Kucherov, James van Riemsdyk would pick up his second goal of the night to extend the Maple Leafs lead over the Lightning to two goals.
Things would start to get chippy once again as Yanni Gourde got into it with defenseman Jake Gardiner to the side of the Maple Leafs net after a play was whistled dead. Apparently, Gardiner didn’t take too kindly to Gourde chopping away at the puck which Frederik Andersen attempted to cover the puck.
Just past the halfway point in the second period, the Lightning received the news absolutely no one wanted to hear. It would be officially announced Ryan Callahan would not be returning to tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs after suffering an Upper-Body Injury.
It is unknown at this point whether or not Callahan will be forced to miss any serious amount of time away from the ice, but the next 24-48 hours will be very telling as to the remainder of Callahan’s season with the Bolts.
Adding insult to injury, just a couple of minutes after the Ryan Callahan announcement, the Maple Leafs would extend their lead to three goals with a goal from forward Zach Hyman. Hyman’s second-period goal would serve as his 14th goal of the season.
In the final three minutes of the second period, the Lightning received the spark they needed to get back into this game. Adam Erne would bring the puck deep into the zone before sending the puck over the Steven Stamkos. After a little bit of puck handling, Stammer would send the puck towards Victor Hedman.
Hedman wasted no time in putting the puck on the net. Andersen just missed the puck on his glove side and the puck went into the back of the net to officially get the Lightning on the board.
When the period came to a close, the Maple Leafs would lead the Lightning 3-1. Unlike the first period of play, in the second period, the Lightning and Maple Leafs were tied at 12 shots on goal each. The Lightning would need an incredibly strong third period if they wanted to bring home another two points.
The Lightning definitely came out in the third period ready to play. It took under a minute and a half for the Lightning to cut the Maple Leafs lead to a single goal. Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh picked up his fourth goal of the season with assists from Yanni Gourde and Mikhail Sergachev.
Just over two minutes later, the Lightning would tie things up with a goal from Nikita Kucherov. As almost every Lightning fan knows by now, Kucherov leads the NHL in Points. Kuch’s third-period goal extends his lead over Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid to four points..
Less than a minute before the halfway point in the third, the Lightning would do the unthinkable. After being down 3-0 in the second period, the Lightning would come back to take control of the game with a goal from Alex Killorn. The assists on the goal would go to Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde.
Over the course of the next 10-plus minutes of play, the Lightning would do everything they could to preserve the lead they worked so very hard to obtain. In the end, their efforts would pay off. When the final buzzer sounded, the Tampa Bay Lightning would defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.
Tonight’s victory over the Maple Leafs marks the end of their eight-game homestand. The Bolts have been at home since March 3 when they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 7-6 in a shootout. Now, almost 20 days later, the Lightning will be heading out on the road for a short two-game road trip.
Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy set a new franchise record in the Lightning’s victory over the Maple Leafs. Vasilevskiy has officially beaten a record set by former Lightning netminder Ben Bishop as Vasy picked up his 41st win of the season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning reached another milestone in tonight’s victory. The Bolts have reached 104 points this season. This is the third highest points in franchise history and there are still nine games left in the regular season. The highest points reached by the Bolts were 108 in the 2014-15 season.
The Lightning has a tough schedule in front of them heading into the final games of the season. The Bolts will meet the Boston Bruins two more times before the final buzzer sounds. They also have a meeting with the league-leading Nashville Predators in the near future.
While the Bolts may have clinched a spot in the postseason, they definitely don’t have the option of playing comfortably. Positioning can mean everything heading into the postseason.
Next up, the Lightning will travel to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn where they will take on the New York Islanders in their final meeting of the season. The Islanders delivered a 4-1 defeat to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. This will definitely give them a bit of momentum heading into Thursday’s matchup with the Bolts.
The Lightning was able to pull off a heck of a comeback tonight against the Maple Leafs tonight, but if the Bolts want to remain successful down the home stretch, they are going to have to give a much more complete effort. Everyone here in the Bolts Nation knows the Lightning are capable of this kind of play; all the team needs to do is take one game at a time and focus their efforts on the task at hand.