Tampa Bay grabbed an all-important point in St. Louis on Tuesday to increase its lead in the Atlantic Division.
Through 52 games, the Lightning have 69 points and lead by two over Montreal and Detroit. The Bolts got some help from a struggling Buffalo team, who beat the Canadiens 3-2 on Tuesday to stop a 14-game losing streak.
The Lightning remain in the top spot in the Eastern Conference too as the New York Islanders (65) and Pittsburgh Penguins (64) have cooled of late and suddenly find the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals (both at 62) nipping at their heels.
Tampa Bay returns to action Thursday, continuing their tour through the Western Conference with a meeting against the Stars in Dallas.
But before the puck drops in the Metroplex, let’s take a look back at Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Blues.
1. ENCOURAGING LOSS
Tampa Bay entered St. Louis having lost three straight road games, the Lightning performing poorly in each.
The Bolts were obliterated in Philadelphia to start the road troubles, falling behind by six goals before eventually losing 7-3. They were outmuscled a night later in Boston, losing 4-3 in a game that probably wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
In Carolina, the Lightning got off to a horrid start and couldn’t recovering, falling to the second-to-worst team in the Eastern Conference
Tuesday’s loss to St. Louis, however, had a different feel.
The Lightning outplayed the Blues for 60 minutes. The Bolts skill and speed negated St. Louis’ heavy style. The Bolts were a confident group heading into Scottrade Center, and it showed in their performance.
Tampa Bay couldn’t solve Blues’ goalie Brian Elliott though, which turned out to be the difference in a 2-1 overtime defeat.
“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “I thought we were the better team by far tonight.”
Sometimes the final result doesn’t reflect the action on the ice. The Bolts left St. Louis with one well-deserved point but probably should have had two.
If they can string together another performance like Tuesday’s in upcoming road games, the Bolts road losing skid, which has now reached four games, will be but a distant memory.
“That’s how we need to play the rest of the year on the road,” Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said.
2. PAQUETTE POTS ANOTHER
It’s almost comical how hot Lightning center Cedric Paquette is right now.
Since returning from the All-Star break, the 21-year-old has scored six times in four games, accounting for over half of his season goal output in a little over a week.
After scoring against St. Louis, Paquette became the first Tampa Bay Lightning rookie in franchise history to net a goal in four straight games.
His tally on Tuesday was typical Paquette.
The French-Canadian pried a puck loose along the boards and sent it up ahead for Alex Killorn to start the scoring chance. Killorn’s shot from the left circle was turned away by Elliott, but Paquette was in the right spot for the rebound and lifted a shot top shelf over Elliott’s glove for the Bolts’ only goal.
Paquette pushed his season-high point streak to five games.
During the first, intermission, Paquette told Sun Sports’ Chris Dingman the goal was his first in the NHL in front of his father, who was with the team as part of the Bolts’ dads trip.
No doubt, there was one proud papa Paquette in the stands.
3. ONE MORE GOAL WINS IT
With the way the Lightning were playing on Tuesday, one got the sense if the Bolts grabbed a second goal, the game was over.
Unfortunately, Elliott robbed the Lightning on several occasions to prevent that from happening.
Midway through the second, Valtteri Filppula intercepted a pass inside the Blues’ zone and passed ahead to Ryan Callahan all alone in front of goal. Callahan tried to backhand a shot into goal, but Elliott did a split to keep the puck out and maintained his uncomfortable position to deny Callahan’s rebound attempt.
A couple minutes later, Ondrej Palat’s pass up ahead to Tyler Johnson started a two-on-one break. Johnson waited until the last second then dished to Nikita Kucherov on his right. Kucherov one-timed a backhander toward goal, but Elliott dove forward, reaching up with his glove to snag the puck out of midair.
“We had a lot of Grade-A’s and their guy kept them out,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “If we could have got that second one, we’re probably sitting here winning in regulation.”
Without Elliott, the Bolts probably score three, four more goals and win going away.
The Blues have Elliott to thank for their two points.