The Tampa Bay Lightning were less than three minutes from dropping back-to-back games for the first time this season. Three of their top five goal scorers were sitting out due to injury. Nikita Kucherov was sent to the locker room midway through the first period after getting leveled at center ice, the fourth guy to go down since the team began its Western Canada trip.
And, yet, with one well-timed rebound flick into goal by Valtteri Filppula, the Bolts’ first road trip of the season was saved, transformed from disastrous to prosperous.
Ondrej Palat capped the comeback with his own rebound scoring effort in overtime, and Tampa Bay escaped Calgary with two hard-earned points. Here’s what we learned about the Bolts during the remarkable rally.
1. Evgeni Nabokov continues to shine in his backup role
Make no mistake, No. 2 goalie Evgeni Nabokov is a backup in name only. In his second start of the season, Nabokov again did the job required of any good netminder: keep enough pucks out of goal to give your team a chance to win. Nabokov did that and more at Calgary. None of the saves the 14-year NHL veteran made were particularly spectacular, but he made several solid stops throughout the night and provided the Lightning with a feeling they were still in the game even when very little was going right.
Nabokov had 22 saves on 23 shots, and the lone goal he allowed was more a result of a great individual play by the Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau, who made a perfect pass to the slot for Dennis Wideman, than anything Nabokov did wrong.
In two starts, Nabokov has stopped 47-of-50 shots, has a 1.48 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. His stellar play allows Lightning head coach Jon Cooper to give Ben Bishop more days off without having to worry about a drop off in goal.
2. The final five-and-a-half minutes of the Calgary game completely changed the complexion of the road trip.
It’s hard to tell how Tampa Bay would have responded had the Flames held on for a 1-0 shutout victory and handed the Lightning their second loss in two nights compounded with the recent rash of injuries befallen the team.
Luckily, the Bolts don’t have to worry about such a scenario.
A road trip that started with so much promise after a sensational 4-2 victory against a previously unbeaten Vancouver team was quickly unraveling. It was learned following the win over the Canucks Norris candidate defenseman Victor Hedman would be out four to six weeks with a fractured finger on his right hand. At morning skate in Edmonton, Alex Killorn took a spill into the boards and injured himself. And then in the loss to Edmonton, which had been winless in five games until playing the Lightning, Ryan Callahan went to the locker room midway through the second period and was diagnosed with a lower body injury that Cooper said could be a “week-to-week” thing.
Late goals from Filppula and Palat against the Flames, however, rescued the Lightning, and suddenly the situation doesn’t seem so dire. In fact, things are downright positive. They’ve secured four of a possible six points playing away from home for the first time. And, they’ve handled the adversity of losing so many key members while continuing to play winning hockey.
Here’s guessing when it’s late in the season and the Bolts are fighting for playoff positioning, the two points gained in Calgary will be remembered as a key turning point in the season.
3. The Lightning still aren’t getting enough shots on net
In its first three contests, Tampa Bay averaged nearly 38 shots a game and scored 12 goals. Not coincidentally, the Lightning were 2-0-1 during that stretch.
Since then, the Lightning are averaging just over 24 shots in the four games that followed, scoring nine times. The Bolts have lost two of those four games, including an ugly loss to previously winless Edmonton.
For much of the Calgary game, Tampa Bay again struggled to get anything on net. The team had only 15 shots through the first 54 minutes of the game and no goals. But a late barrage of activity on Karri Ramo’s net – seven shots over the final nine minutes -- produced two scores.
Both goals were practically identical, too. A defenseman from the point blasted a slap shot that Ramo saved but couldn’t control, and someone was waiting outside the crease to knock home the rebound.
More of that is needed from the Bolts in the final two games of the road trip, particularly with Callahan, Hedman and Killorn sidelined.