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RECAP: Lightning 6, Oilers 4

by Ryan Frankson / Edmonton Oilers

TAMPA, FL — Despite finding the back of the net on four occasions, the Oilers never led against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday at Amalie Arena, dropping a 6-4 decision to conclude the Florida segment of their road trip.

Edmonton was able to battle back and tie the game three times when Tampa pulled ahead, but they didn’t have a fourth left in the tank, resulting in the two-goal defeat. Zack Kassian had a breakthrough performance in his fourth game since his call-up from AHL Bakersfield, scoring once and adding an assist in a losing cause.

“We found ourselves making mistakes at the wrong point of the game,” veteran Matt Hendricks said post-game. “We gave them opportunities when we had battled back. We’d get back in the game and then a mistake would cost us another one. It just seemed to be like that all night. We didn’t seem to have the best legs tonight. I don’t think we had quite the jump that our club usually has.” 

The Oilers didn’t get the exact start they wanted, but they quickly rebounded as the teams traded goals 1:28 apart in the early stages of the game.

The Lightning jumped on an Edmonton squad playing the second night of a back-to-back, controlling the play early and converting their first tally courtesy Nikita Nesterov just 3:57 into the frame. Alex Killorn shook Oilers d-man Brad Hunt at the top of the left-wing circle and slid a perfect pass to Nesterov, who one-timed a tough-angle shot past Anders Nilsson.

The home team’s lead was short-lived, however, as Kassian scored his first Oilers goal about a minute and a half later. Iiro Pakarinen got the puck in the high slot and put a wrister on net, while Kassian snuck behind the Tampa defence and chipped the rebound past Andrei Vasilevskiy for his 36th NHL goal and first with Edmonton in his fourth game.

“It’s always nice to get the first one out of the way, but it feels a lot better when you come back in with a win,” Kassian said. “Personally, it feels good. Obviously, I’ve been through a lot, but my main goal now is to just try to get wins.”

After Nikita Kucherov scored a rebound tally as well to reclaim the Tampa lead at 16:57, Mark Letestu made sure the Oilers were all square after 20 minutes with his second shorthanded tally of the season. Edmonton was killing a Justin Schultz holding infraction when Letestu won a battle to a loose puck in the neutral zone, burst in on Vasilevskiy and beat him low for his seventh of the year.

The Oilers got a scare early in the opening frame when Nail Yakupov appeared to suffer a lower-body injury as he got tangled up with Braydon Coburn in front of the Lightning net. The Russian winger, who just returned from a long-term ankle ailment last week, had to be helped off the ice, but he quickly returned to game, seemingly no worse for wear.

It was the Ondrej Palat Show for Tampa in the middle frame, as he scored to put the home side up 3-2 and set up another to give them a two-goal cushion through 40 minutes.

His tally came at 6:09 after some sustained pressure that led to him getting the puck alone right in front of Nilsson. The winger made no mistake, firing home a wrist shot for his fourth of the season. Then, at 17:12, Palat put another close-range wrist shot on net, and this time Nilsson stopped it, but the rebound popped into the air, only to be batted in by Vladislav Namestnikov.

Trailing by two, the Oilers didn’t back down in the third, quickly cutting the lead to 4-3 just 2:10 into the frame. Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl sprung free for a mini two-on-one rush, with Hall flipping a perfect pass to Draisaitl for the one-timer.

The big German now has goals in back-to-back games and 11 on the season to give him 36 points in 38 games. Hall, meanwhile, got his team-leading 46th point on the setup, while Kassian earned his second point of the game with the second assist.

Just 2:19 later, it was all tied up again as Iiro Pakarinen smacked a rolling puck on net from the half-wall, and the knuckler eluded Vasilevskiy on his short side top corner to make it 4-4 with plenty of time to go. The feisty Finnish winger had his fourth of the season and we had a whole new hockey game.

The Lightning regained their lead for good, though, on a miscue by Nilsson at the 7:42 mark. With the Oilers on the power play, their goalie came out to play a puck that had been sent into the defensive zone, but Brian Boyle beat him to it and fired a shot into the vacated cage to make it 5-4. Killorn added the empty-netter with 26.7 seconds to go.

“Misplay or not, at the end of the night that’s too many (goals against),” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “They’re too talented a team for us to play as loose and poorly as we did in our zone, and that’s team-wide.”

The Oilers get a day to recuperate before concluding their three-game road trip Thursday night against the Dallas Stars. Their season series is even through two games, with the home side winning each previous matchup. In their most recent clash on Dec. 4 at Rexall Place, Jordan Eberle scored in OT to give Edmonton a 2-1 win.
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