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Tampa Bay Lightning finally gets a needed breakthrough to will way to a win





by Erik Erlendsson | @Erik_Erlendsson | Like us on Facebook
October 26, 2021

PITTSBURGH –  The Tampa Bay Lightning needed a breakthrough moment.

Something good needed to happen to turn a game in their direction, the way they deserved it, the way they’ve earned it in the early stages of the season.

The formula felt right for the most part through six games, but the recipe just wasn’t coming together.

So, things were mixed up a little once again and it led to several first for Tampa Bay on the season in a game that looked more like the Tampa Bay Lightning to end a brief two-game road trip.

{mprestriction ids=”1,2″}After a well played opening period in which the Lightning generated nearly 70-percent of the scoring chances, the game remained without a goal through 20 minutes. That’s a familiar script Tampa Bay has written thus far in the season. Play relatively well, but don’t find the breakthrough as the Lightning entered Tuesday’s game with just one first-period goal on the season through six games and had yet to scoring the opening goal of the game.

On top of that, the goalless first period extended Tampa Bay’s stretch of play without a holding a lead at any point in a game to over 393 minutes.

It just felt that no matter how the game was transpiring, no matter how well the Lightning have played – with the exception of opening night against Pittsburgh – Tampa Bay could not push the game in their favor and ended up having to chase the game. They entered every third period in the opening six games of the season facing a deficit.

The chase led to victories twice, both coming in overtime, and a point another time in a shootout loss.

But chase too much and the finish line gets further and further off into the distance.

With all of that weighing on the team heading into the game and again through the first period on Tuesday, the Lightning just needed to will something to go their way.

And in the opening shift of the second period, something finally did.

A stretch pass from Mikhail Sergachev, who was benched for the final five minutes of the first period after an undisciplined penalty, found Alex Killorn at the red line for a quick touch pass up to Brayden Point, who gained the blue line with speed to blow past John Marino and set up a 2-on-1 chance before lifting a backhand shot over Tristan Jarry 31 seconds into the second period.

It marked the first time Tampa Bay had scored the opening goal of a game and put the Lightning in the lead for the first time on the young season.

The goal acted like a release valve on a hot water heater that is starting to boil.

“That was talked about quite a bit on the bench so I think there was some extra excitement on that goal,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

Tampa Bay did catch a break to gain that lead as in the first period a quick whistle denied a Pittsburgh goal after a shot up high was stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy, who froze his movement as the puck deflected up in the air and fell into the crease. Brock McGinn had an easy top in to put the Penguins up front, but the whistle clearly blew the play dead before the puck landed in the blue paint.

And that was the break that Tampa Bay was finally able to take advantage of to have a game shift in the Lightning’s favor.

“It helps out on a lot of areas,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said of playing with the lead. “It just creates more momentum for you. it makes the other team press a little bit. You keep it simple and get going north on the forecheck and get more goals that way. So it was good for us.”

That goal allowed the Lightning to settle in to their game, establish more of their style.

They might have relaxed just a tad, as well, when the Penguins started to make a push in the middle part of the second period. Tampa Bay started to get hemmed in their own zone for extended shifts. Right around the 10-minute mark, Pittsburgh had one of those shifts and kept the puck in the zone for over a minute straight and felt like they were going to get a breakthrough of their own.

But Vasilevskiy, being Vasilevskiy, didn’t allow that to happen as the Penguins had four shots on goal between the 10:38 and 11:04 and generated six shot attempts before Tampa Bay was finally able to clear the zone and get a partial change with two fresh players able to get on the ice. One was Ondrej Palat, and after a pass by Brian Dumoulin up ice was disrupted by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare at the Tampa Bay blue line, Alex Barre-Boulet was able to get a quick pass up to Palat, who took three strides into the Pittsburgh zone and beat Jarry from the right circle at 11:18 to extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 2-0.

Off the faceoff after the goal, Steven Stamkos – back at center after some line tweaking –  won the puck back to Jan Rutta, who pushed the puck  up to Mathieu Joseph, who touched a backhand pass to Stamkos as he gained the zone. Stamkos circled the Pittsburgh net and found McDonagh cutting in to the top of the left circle for a one-timer past Jarry for a 3-0 lead. The goal came 10 seconds after Palat, one second off the franchise record for fastest two goals scored in team history.

“I thought that was an important goal of us,” Palat said of his goal. “Vasy made some big stops right before and Bellemare and BB made a nice play to me on my goal. Then McDonogh scores right away so it was huge.”

It turned the game strongly in Tampa Bay’s favor and took the wind out of Pittsburgh’s sails in a hurry and completely allowed Tampa Bay to settle into a more comfortable situation, holding on to a third period lead.

And other than a couple of questionable puck decisions and management on back-to-back plays by Alex Killorn and Joseph, the Lightning put the game into lockdown. For the third period, Tampa Bay held the Penguins to three shots on goal at 5-on-5 play and just one scoring chance. The Lightning had seven shots, 10 scoring chances and three high danger chances.

After a Sergachev empty net goal with 4:05 left, only a power play goal by Jason Zucker – which came after a failed Killorn clear – spoiled the shutout chance for Vasilevskiy with 2:17 left.

Killorn would add another empty net goal at 18:55.

It was the exclamation point in a third period where it was nearly 10 minutes before Pittsburgh put a puck on net.

“As our team has grown in the last couple of years . . . you want to get the lead and extend it and protect it,” Cooper said. “But we’ve always been that team that gets the lead, extends it, extends it,  extends it. Sometimes it can open up to issues and tonight they were rock solid in neutral zone and just didn’t give Pittsburgh easy entries. Obviously it helped us.”

Tampa Bay got the lead, extended it and the defended it. Just like the team has done so many times the previous two seasons. The Lightning willed things to go their way on Tuesday and found the breaks – and reward – they earned.


Postgame notes: Palat netted his 128th career goal to pass Vinny Prospal and move into sole possession of 10th place on the franchise all-time goal scoring list. … C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare recorded his 100th career point with an assist on Palat’s goal. … Mathieu Joseph extend his point streak to three games, matching his career long for a point streak set twice previously (last: from March 27-April 1, 2021). … Killorn netted his 150th career goal to pull into a tie with Brad Richards for sixth place on the all-time franchise goal-scoring leaders. … RW Pat Maroon returned to the lineup after missing Monday’s game in Buffalo to be with his wife after the couple welcomed a daughter on Sunday. … LW Boris Katchouk was a healthy scratch along with D Fredrik Claesson.

My three stars:

1. Lightning D Ryan McDonagh – Goal, assist, plus-2, six shot attempts, two blocked shots

2. Lightning G Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 28 shots, 23 in the first two periods, stopped all 7 high danger shots faced

3. Lightning LW Ondrej Palat – Goal, assist, plus-3, six hits


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