The Lightning showed off their depth with a solid 5-2 win over the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets.
This was a marquee matchup between two division-leading teams in what some were calling a potential Stanley Cup Final preview. The real question coming in was whether the Bolts would continue the strong play they showed last game, in their dominating 5-1 performance against a struggling Senators team, against a playoff-caliber Jets squad.
Blake Wheeler would provide the Jets’ response on an odd-man-rush power play goal later in the first which came after Anthony Cirelli and Gourde tried to take advantage of a shorthanded scoring chance. The Jets were outshot 27-15 after two periods. They failed to reach double digits in shots on goal until more than halfway through the game.
The Bolts followed up with two goals in the second, one being Adam Erne’s first goal since Dec. 29 when he put up two against Montreal, and two goals in the third to take a 5-1 lead. That score would have held up if not for what could be one of the strangest goals of the season. Jacob Trouba chipped the puck off the boards during a Winnipeg power play late in the third, which Andrei Vasilevskiy prepared to play behind goal, and the puck ricocheted awkwardly off the stanchion and ended up in the net.
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“I thought we jumped on them early and dictated a lot of the play of the game for most until the very end,” said Bolts head coach Jon Cooper in the postgame press conference. “If it weren’t for a couple unfortunate breaks for us, the first one McDonagh loses an edge and we give up an odd-man rush and we all saw what happened with the second one. Overall though it was a heck of a team effort.”
It was just that, a very thorough team effort from top to bottom. The fourth line of Erne, Mathieu Joseph and Cedric Paquette especially made itself heard by putting up a combined two goals, three assists and 11 hits on the night.
Paquette’s ability to get under the opposing players’ skin served as an effective way to draw penalties, but it will be important for him to stay out of the box come playoff time. Paquette tallied eight PIM in the game, and was doubled up for four minutes because of an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he slammed his stick against the glass.
When the Lightning control the pace of play, as they did for the majority of this game, they are the most lethal team in the NHL. Brayden Point’s reaction after his third period goal, coming off a tic-tac-toe setup from Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, provides a perfect example of this. There was no overly-excited celebration and it looked almost as if it was like going through the motions for Point, and that is something that should scare other teams. It is the fact that this team makes it look too easy to be so offensively potent, even against a division leader.
“You have to take advantage of teams. That’s a really good team out there and they’re missing their two top defensemen,” said Cooper. “They’ve got some injuries and you got to take advantage of that.”
The Bolts certainly took advantage and gained another two points in the standings, as they sit atop the entire NHL with 106 points on the year.
The Lightning continue their homestand Thursday night when the resurgent Minnesota Wild come to town.
Notable Nuts and BOLTS:
-Andrei Vasilevskiy has now won 10-straight in games started and has achieved 30+ wins in back-to-back seasons
-The Bolts are now 17-0-1 when Gourde scores in a game. Pass it to Yanni boys!!
-Kucherov tied Vincent Lecavalier’s franchise record of 108 points in a season. (There are still 15 games left in the regular season, so expect a new franchise record)
-This was the 29th game this year that the Bolts scored at least five goals.