MAY 22, 2016: THE BUTT GOAL
Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison sure looked like he’d scored his second game-winning goal of the 2016 playoffs when he snapped a wrist shot from the left dot past Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 53 seconds into overtime of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Garrison had already supplied the game-winner in a pivotal Game 4 win at the New York Islanders in the second round.
Garrison continued to find overtime magic in Pittsburgh, his timely shot giving the Lightning a 4-3 victory in Game 5 vs the Penguins. Replay would show Garrison’s shot changed direction slightly when it hit Johnson’s backside.
“I thought (Garrison) was going for my head again, so I just turned around,” Johnson, credited with the winning tally, said after Game 5. Johnson undoubtedly was feeling apprehensive about getting hit in the face again after taking a puck to the mouth in warmups of Game 4, opening a cut that would require stitches and force him to wear a full cage in that game.
Johnson’s self-preservation reflex turned out to be the right move for the Lightning as it tipped the puck past Fleury and put the Lightning just one win away from a second-straight Eastern Conference championship and a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
DECEMBER 18, 2015: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
The Tampa Bay Lightning would just as soon forget their mid-season meeting with the Washington Capitals in D.C.
Tampa Bay seemed well on its way to winning its third game in a row after opening a 3-0 lead on the Capitals by the game’s midpoint.
From that point, however, the Caps took complete control, scoring five unanswered goals in a stunning flurry of offensive prowess to win 5-3 and sweep all three regular season games from the Lightning.
Still, there were a couple of good moments for the Bolts, highlighted by Alex Killorn’s ridiculous goal to open the scoring.
A little more than eight minute into the game, Killorn got the puck in the high slot without anyone defending him. The forward skated toward goal, got the Caps’ Justin Williams to fall to the ice, skated around Williams, pulled Caps goalie Braden Holtby out of goal by faking a shot, waited, skated, waited some more and then slipped the puck past Holtby’s outstretched leg at the post to put the Bolts up 1-0.
Killorn’s goal will certainly make his career highlight reel.
The Bolts can burn the rest of the film, however, particularly the final 30 minutes of an epic collapse.
Andrei the Giant vs. Garrison makes history on opening night
MARCH 7, 2016: ANDREI THE GIANT
Tampa Bay backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had two pretty remarkable saves in the Lightning’s 4-2 loss in Philadelphia.
We’re going with his first great save for the purposes of our Top 32.
A turnover in the Bolts’ defensive zone led to a two-on-none opportunity for the Flyers’ Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Wayne Simmonds. Bellemare zipped a pass to Simmonds on the doorstep, and Simmonds returned a pass back to Bellemare for the final setup and what should have been a tap-in goal.
Except Vasilevskiy read the play perfectly and bounced to his left to rob Bellemare.
Later in the game with the score tied 1-1, Chris VandeVelde had an open rebound try at the post. Vasilevskiy, again displaying his quick reflexes, stuck his left leg out and got just enough of his skate on VandeVelde’s shot to keep the puck out.
Vasilevskiy’s brilliant saves weren’t enough, however, to keep the Lightning from falling to the red-hot Flyers.
OCTOBER 8, 2015: GARRISON MAKES HISTORY ON OPENING NIGHT
Jason Garrison will forever be the answer to a NHL trivia question.
Who scored the first goal under the NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime format?
Answer: Jason Garrison
The league adopted the OT change prior to the 2015-16 season in an effort to decrease the number of games settled in a shootout. Fans at Amalie Arena got the first look at the open-ice, end-to-end madness on Opening Night when the Lightning and the Flyers played to a 2-2 draw through 60 minutes.
In just over two minutes of overtime play, the two teams combined for eight shots.
Garrison ended it at 2:17, latching onto Alex Killorn’s push-ahead pass for a breakaway, which the defenseman finished with a flourish: forehand, backhand, far post shot on Philly’s Steve Mason. Setting up the break was Valtteri Filppula, who, without a stick, outmuscled Flyers D-man Evgeny Medvedev for a puck along the boards and pushed it backward with his skate to an open Killorn.
The play capped a celebratory night for the Lightning. The team unveiled its 2014-15 Eastern Conference championship banner before puck drop. Expectations for 2015-16 were at an all-time high, some hockey experts predicting the Bolts would return to the Stanley Cup Final and this time win it.
Garrison’s game-winner was a good start to reaching those heights.
The Bolts would go on to win their first three games in 2015-16 but their play soon dipped and they finished October just 5-5-2.
On October 8 anyway, the Lightning were trailblazers, entering uncharted NHL territory and coming away on the good side.
And Garrison will always have a spot in the league record book.
Batter up vs. Drouin It, Drouin It and Drouin It Well
March 28, 2016: BATTER UP
If Ondrej Palat ever gets bored with hockey, he could probably give baseball a try.
Palat showed outstanding hand-eye coordination to knock a puck out of the air with his stick and put it past Toronto goalie Garret Sparks in a late-season 3-0 victory for the Bolts over the Maple Leafs.
Palat’s swinging connection was the end result of a puck sent toward net by Steven Stamkos. Sparks blockered Stamkos’ shot away but up in the air and into the path of Palat, who swung his hockey stick like a baseball bat, making contact around where the shaft joins the blade.
Score that shot a home run for Palat.
APRIL 19, 2016: DROUIN IT, DROUIN IT AND DROUIN IT WELL
2015-16 was an interesting season for Jonathan Drouin to say the least.
The second-year forward spent time early in the year on the Lightning’s top line but saw his playing time diminish as the season wore on before he was eventually sent to AHL Syracuse to get more regular action.
What followed has been well documented: Drouin refused the assignment, the Lightning suspended him, Drouin’s agent revealed the winger had requested a trade, the Lightning inquired about possible deals as the trade deadline approached but ultimately decided the return wasn’t enough to part with their prized prospect, Drouin returned to Syracuse and was eventually recalled to Tampa Bay by the end of the regular season and back in the team’s good graces.
Drouin was determined in his return, scoring a goal in each of his first two games back with the Lightning.
But the 21-year-old showed just how impactful he could be in Game 4 of the Bolts first round series against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
Drouin spearheaded a suddenly resurgent Lightning power play, providing the primary assist on all three Bolts goals, all three coming with the man-advantage. The Lightning broke out to a 2-0 lead, but Detroit rallied to level the score late in the second period.
With less than five minutes to go, the Lightning earned a late power play when Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson was whistled for cross checking Ondrej Palat.
The Bolts pounced on the opportunity.
Drouin faked like he was setting up for a one-timer on the right dot. When the pass came his way, he held the puck for a moment before rifling a pass in front of goal for Palat, who neatly deflected the puck into the net for the game-winner.
Drouin would go on to score five goals and assist on nine others in the 2016 playoffs.
But his greatest performance, and arguably his best game as Bolt, came in that pivotal first round Game 4. Thanks to Drouin’s deft passing, the Lightning took a 3-1 lead in the series and closed the Red Wings out two days later in Game 5 at Amalie Arena.
Extra attacker sinks Islanders vs. Shorthanded Success
MAY 3, 2016: EXTRA ATTACKER SINKS ISLANDERS
The New York Islanders held a lead three separate times against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Barclays Center in Game 3 of their second round playoff series.
The Lightning had a response each time.
None, however, was as dramatic as Nikita Kucherov’s late-game equalizer with the Lightning net empty.
Tampa Bay was down to its last 50 seconds, the Isles clinging to a 4-3 lead as the Lightning brought on an extra attacker. The puck swung around the point to Jonathan Drouin, who maneuvered into the left circle while Kucherov skated into the slot. Drouin hit him with a pass, and Kucherov beat Thomas Greiss to the goalie’s stick side to tie the game 4-4 with 38.4 seconds to go.
The Lightning would need just 2:48 to win Game 3 in overtime.
The game-winner would have never happened though if not for Kucherov coming to the rescue.
And who knows how the series would have played out had the Islanders held on for the victory in Game 3.
NOVEMBER 19, 2015: SHORTHANDED SUCCESS
A late penalty against Tampa Bay was a potential disaster for the Lightning in their first matchup of the season versus the New York Rangers.
The game was tied 1-1 after the Rangers leveled the score a few minutes earlier. New York hoped to seize their new-found momentum and sneak out of Amalie Arena with a late, come-from-behind victory.
The power play, however, ended up benefitting the Lightning.
Ryan McDonagh lost control of the puck at the blue line, sparking a 2-on-1 break with J.T. Brown and Valtteri Filppula against McDonagh.
Brown carried the puck into the offensive zone, drew McDonagh his way then fed Filppula the puck. The Finnish forward, all alone against Henrik Lundqvist, finished with precision, one-timing Brown’s pass into an opening and sending Amalie Arena into a frenzy with the quick turn of events.
The Lightning would hold on for the 2-1 win in one of the more thrilling finishes of the season for the Bolts.