Quick Strikes: Second Line Dominates, Vasilevskiy Rounding Into Playoff Form & Late Mental Lapse Ends Point Streak

Héctor Urcia for Inside The Rink
Photo Credit: Hector Urcia/Inside the Rink

Fresh off of a West Coast trip that saw them earn seven of a possible eight points and get closer to punching their playoff ticket, the Tampa Bay Lightning came home for three huge games against playoff-bound teams or ones still in the hunt. They earned four of a possible six points, making this home stand a success even though it ended on a sour note.

The homestand began with the Lightning hosting the Boston Bruins for the last regular season game between these two Atlantic Division rivals. In a possible first-round preview, this game proved to the rest of the league that Tampa Bay isn’t ready to relinquish its role as a postseason threat yet.

Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov continued their hot streaks with a goal apiece. Rookie Mitchell Chaffee contributed a goal too, while starting netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy had one of his best games, holding the Bruins to one goal on 24 shots in a win.

March ended with a game against the desperate New York Islanders. An early goal against put the Lightning in a hole, but they kept up the pressure. At one point during the opening period, the home team had a 20 to 5 shot advantage. Semyon Varlamov was the difference, but there was no let up by the boys wearing black.

A power play late gave the Lightning a chance to tie the game entering the intermission. They did that and more, with Darren Raddysh scoring on the man advantage to tie things at one. The ensuing faceoff saw the second line of Brandon Hagel, Anthony Cirelli, and Steven Stamkos take over, as Hagel found Cirelli in front of the net for a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.

It was all Islanders in the middle frame, as they came to life and fired shots from everywhere. Vasilevskiy did everything to keep the puck out, including making an incredible save by doing the splits. That was one of his 27 saves on the night.

Entering the final period, the Lightning knew they needed to be better than they were in the second. That happened quickly, courtesy of the captain. Stamkos deflected an Emil Lilleberg shot past Varlamov 21 seconds into the third for a 3-1 lead. Cirelli sealed the deal with an empty netter in the final minutes for the win, stretching their point streak to nine games.

April Fools Day saw the Detroit Red Wings come to town. A team that’s had the Lightning’s number this season and was desperate for points after struggling in March, this had all of the makings of a trap game. Despite two goals by Cirelli being disallowed, robbing him of a potential hat trick, the Bolts controlled play for long stretches and were tied with under three minutes to go in regulation. Unfortunately, a mental lapse defensively left David Perron alone in front of Vasilevskiy. He didn’t miss, giving the Red Wings a 3-2 lead. An empty net goal by Lucas Raymond sealed the loss, ending the Lightning’s nine-game point streak.

Despite losing their most recent game, the Lightning’s second line dominated play against some tough Eastern Conference foes. Against the Islanders and Red Wings, Hagel had three points, Cirelli tallied three goals (four points), and Stamkos notched two goals (one in each game).

With no training camp, Vasilevskiy had to take his lumps in what has been an up-and-down season for the former Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Now, he looks to be rounding into postseason form, allowing one goal against in three of his past six starts. More than that, he’s given up three goals against or less in eight of 10 starts. If he can keep playing at this level, the Lightning have a chance to do damage in the postseason.

Can the Lightning avoid slumping at the wrong time, instead peaking at a crucial time? While unknown, the final two weeks will go a long way in determining whether this team has what it takes to not only make the playoffs but potentially go on another deep postseason run.

Lauren Burg

Lauren Burg is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer for “Inside the Rink.” A lifelong Tampa Bay Area resident, she graduated from the University of South Florida’s world-renowned journalism program in December 2009. While in college, she discovered hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning. She quickly became a passionate fan, attending many games over the years. She also experienced an All-Star game in 2018, numerous road games, and, most recently, the Bolts back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since graduating college, she’s been working hard to combine her two loves, writing and hockey, hoping to one day make that her full-time career. In her free time, she enjoys attending sporting events (both home & road when possible), taking photos, and traveling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NHL Game Preview: Edmonton Oilers vs. Arizona Coyotes | 04/17/2024

I apologize to any Sharks fans who may’ve watched Monday night’s game live in person. Oilers fans can relate by remembering a time when our team had dozens of losses as bad as that one. When San Jose becomes good enough to get out of their rebuilding phase, they’ll look back and laugh at a […]

Read More
Luca Del Bel Belluz scoring his first goal in his first shift of his first NHL game

Columbus Blue Jacket’s Season Finale

It was an action-packed night for this season’s final game for the Blue Jackets at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. Luca Del Belluz and Gavin Brindley both made their NHL debuts. Longtime play-by-play announcer Jeff Rimer called his last game after 20 years of calling games for the Jackets. Zach Werenski tied the Blue Jackets […]

Read More

Bruins Fail to Clinch First Place in Atlantic Division, 3-1 Loss vs. Ottawa Senators | 4/16/2024

The Bruins played their final game in the regular season, taking a 3-1 loss against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, April 16th. Boston had lost both of their last games to end the regular season, failing to clinch first place in the Atlantic Division. The Florida Panthers moved one point ahead after defeating the Toronto […]

Read More