Sparked by Antoine Roussel's hit early in the game on Nikita Kucherov and a blindside hit later by Danick Martel on Troy Stecher that knocked Stecher out of the game, the game between Tampa Bay and Vancouver at Rogers Arena got out of hand at times, both teams not backing down from a challenge and sticking up for teammates when they were being run or sucker punched or both.
The Lightning finished with a season-high 36 penalty minutes. Cedric Paquette and Yanni Gourde each got in a fight, and Paquette recorded his first career Gordie Howe hat trick. But when the final punch had been thrown, Tampa Bay left Vancouver with a 5-2 victory to extend its point streak to 10 games and extend its lead in the NHL standings to eight points over Winnipeg, Calgary, Nashville and Toronto, all lined up in a tie for second place.
"We try to play with our speed and skill, but when it gets chippy like that, guys stepped up, stuck up for themselves," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said following the win, the Bolts' 26th of the season.
How were the Bolts able to overcome the nastiness?
Breaking down a wild one from Vancouver with Three Things we learned from punishing the Canucks.
Video: TBL@VAN: Paquette caps rush off Martel's stellar dish
1. UNLIKELY START
Danick Martel was walking by himself to the arena, expecting to sit up in the press box like he's done for all but one game this season.
Then he got a text that would change his night, and maybe even his future with the Lightning.
The message said you're playing. Ryan Callahan took warmups but was a surprise late scratch.
Martel found out he would be replacing Callahan while the team was on the ice for warmups.
"I was walking so I start running under the rain, came in and had some fun," Martel recalled."
Boy did he ever.
Martel, making just his second appearance for the Lightning this season and playing in his sixth career NHL game, slotted a beautiful pass to Cedric Paquette on the back post for the Bolts' second goal of the game, the 24 year old showing Nikolay Goldobin his back and then spinning to backhand a puck across for his linemate to put Tampa Bay ahead for good 2-1 at 11:07 of the first period
"Unreal, honestly," Paquette said of Martel's pass. "I played with him in junior. I saw him do that a couple times, and I was ready for it."
Later in the game, it was Martel's hit on Stecher, which came from the blind side and put Stecher out for the rest of the evening, that drew the ire of the Canucks, the final 10 minutes or so of the second period devolving into a game of players trying to take runs at their opponent.
"After my hit, I think we were playing in their head," Martel said. "They were just trying to hit us instead of playing the puck, so we had the puck a lot. We created a lot of plays. Even on that last shift, we were first on the puck, ready to jump. They were not too focused about the puck, they just wanted to hit us, so it was good for us."
Martel could be pressed into more action as Callahan is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Maybe the Lightning coaching staff should wait until warmups to let him know if he's in or not when they play Calgary on Thursday.
"I think pretty much everyone thought I would have a bad game and just play two, three minutes, maybe one, two shifts and just feel it around and cover some shifts," Martel said. "But I wanted to make a difference. I don't have a lot of opportunities at the start of the year, so when I have some, I have to get ready. I said the same thing the first game. I'm playing my role. I played a decent game again today for the warmup I had, so I'm proud of it."
Video: Paquette | Postgame TBL 5, VAN 2
2. SCORING DEPTH STRIKES AGAIN
Tampa Bay got goals from standout scorers Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos in Tuesday's 5-2 win, but it was goals by Cedric Paquette and Adam Erne as well as contributions from all three members of the fourth line that was the difference in Vancouver.
Paquette scored the go-ahead goal off Martel's brilliant pass and later put a shot on net that was redirected past Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson by Adam Erne for the assist and his second point of the night.
Erne tallied the second assist on Paquette's goal and hit the back of the net with his redirect from the slot on what would prove to be the game-winning goal to register his second multi-point game of the season.
And, of course, Martel, filling in for Callahan, proved the Lightning can dig deep into their roster and continue to get valuable contributions, even from guys who haven't played in over a month.
"They played great all year," Stamkos said of the fourth line. "Martel, who knows where he was when he got the call to come. He didn't even take warmups. Amazing for him to jump in like that and play a great game, got his first NHL point and stirred it up a little bit. Ceddy's been great all year and stepped up. I thought those guys were great tonight and were a big reason why we won."
Besides just their offensive production, the fourth line brought a physicality and an intimidation that got the Canucks out of their game and allowed the Lightning to pull away in the end.
Tampa Bay scored twice over the final three minutes of the game. No doubt, the way the Lightning wore down Vancouver with their ability to roll four lines and distribute minutes somewhat evenly among their forward group played a large roll in the Bolts' late tallies.
Video: Lightning ride balanced offense, Vasilevskiy to win
3. UNHERALDED PENALTY KILL
The Lightning penalty kill won't get a lot of the accolades from Tuesday's 5-2 win in Vancouver, but when the game was hanging in the balance, the Bolts' special teamers answered the bell each time they were called onto the ice.
And they were called plenty.
Vancouver was awarded six power plays against Tampa Bay, which registered a season-high 36 penalty minutes for the game. The Canucks converted zero power plays. In fact, not only were they not able to capitalize on any of their six power plays, the Canucks weren't even able to generate momentum off the power play as Tampa Bay's penalty kill disrupted their setup time and time again.
Vancouver had a 5-on-3 advantage for nearly a minute in the first period.
The Lightning penalty kill has been dialed in for pretty much all of December, the unit giving up only two goals in nine games during the month. The penalty kill is 26-of-28 in December and owns the best mark in the NHL for the month at 92.9 percent.
For the season, the Bolts penalty kill is fourth in the league at 83.2 percent.
And although it didn't register a goal in Vancouver, Tampa Bay's power play has also been magnificent, scoring on seven of its 14 opportunities coming into the game against the Canucks.
The Lightning are the only team in the NHL ranking in the top four for both power play and penalty kill.
Special teams have proven to be, well, special, for Tampa Bay in 2018-19.
And the penalty kill spearheaded the Bolts' effort in Vancouver, putting up its second 6-for-6 performance in the last three games.