Sometimes the puck bounces in your favor; other times, you’re not so lucky.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were on the right side of the coin Thursday against Carolina, scoring two fortuitous goals in a 2-1 victory over the Hurricanes.
The Lightning got back in the win column after losing two in a row and three of their previous four.
They also regained possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, leapfrogging Detroit for the top spot.
So, what did we learn Thursday, besides that it’s sometimes better to be lucky than good? We’ve got you covered.
1. Everybody loves Nabby
Evgeni Nabokov has been an important offseason acquisition for the Tampa Bay Lightning, maybe as much for his presence in the locker room as his play on the ice.
A 14-year veteran of the NHL, Nabokov is beloved by his teammates for his good-natured personality. He’s loose in the locker room. He’s funny. He’s kind of quirky. He talks in a high-pitched voice that instantly draws a smile out of the listener. That smile turns to laughter when Nabby delivers a one-liner, which is pretty much any time he’s talking.
“He’s a really popular figure,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s been a great signing for us. His stability for us, in the room, how he is and how he’s handled himself, you pull for guys like Nabby, really happy for him.”
On Thursday, Nabokov’s play was the catalyst behind the Bolts 2-1 win. He made a great, sprawling save in the game’s opening minutes, blocking a shot between his legs and lying on his back to keep the loose puck from trickling into the goal, a critical stop for a Tampa Bay team that had played from behind in recent games after giving up early goals.
Nabokov made 29-of-30 saves for his third win of the season.
His teammates in the locker room were as happy finally getting Nabokov some goal support as they were to snap their losing skid.
“I feel like whenever he’s been in net, we haven’t been able to score a lot of goals,” Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula said. “I think he’s been playing well, and it was nice to get the win.”
2. Jonathan Drouin should see an increase in minutes in the near future
Before Thursday’s game, Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman met with reporters to announce the team would not be releasing rookie winger Jonathan Drouin to Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championships.
While the decision is sure to cause rancor up north, Yzerman felt Drouin’s development would be better served staying with the Lightning, where he can continue learning the Bolts’ brand of hockey while growing as a NHL player.
“The NHL is a different league, and it’s just going to take a little time adjusting,” Yzerman said. “We’re asking him to do more than just score, (to) be good in all aspects of the game and he’s committed to it and we want him to get as much opportunity here.”
Drouin agreed with the decision.
“I want to stay here for the full year, and (WJC’s) is four weeks away from the team,” Drouin said.
Ondrej Palat was scratched prior to the Carolina game with a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. With Palat sidelined, Drouin will be called on to shoulder more of the load. While he might not play the 19 or so minutes he was getting when he first broke into the league during the Bolts’ Western Canada road trip, he’ll probably get more than the 10-plus he was seeing in recent weeks.
“We’ve got 12 healthy forwards and we don’t have a ton of depth, so it’s an opportunity for Jon to play more,” Yzerman said.
3. With their backs against the wall, the Lightning responded
Getting two points against Carolina was crucial for a Lightning team about to embark on a five-games-in-eight-days road trip. The Bolts had squandered opportunities to pick up anything in home losses to Columbus and Washington.
A third-straight loss to the Eastern Conference’s worst team (points-wise), would have been an absolute disaster.
With the score tied 1-1 late in the third period, Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas was called for delay of game after sending the puck over the glass from inside his own zone, an egregious penalty to take at the 15:59 mark.
Had the Bolts given up a goal, it could have made for a long road trip to the Northeast. Instead, Tampa Bay buckled down, killed the penalty and got a much-needed two points on Kucherov’s second goal with 31 seconds remaining in the game.
“Little bit of a character test, 1-1 game,” Cooper said. “…You’re tested when you take a penalty with four minutes to go in a 1-1 game. Big-time kill and then we got the fortunate bounce at the end"