For the fourth time in a week, the Carolina Hurricanes face off with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Carolina took the first game of the four game series. Tampa rebounded and took the next two with a fourth and final meeting in the Mini series Thursday evening in Thunder Bay. Curtis McElhinney gets his 3rd start of the season giving Andrei Vasilevskiy the night off after putting on some of the best goaltending league wide for the first 18 games of the season. Tampa is coming off their best full game effort last night and face a tall order to continue the dominant style of play in back to back games. Finding consistent play is difficult league wide in this unusual of seasons with the rescheduling and shortened season. All teams trying to find the right balance in a physically demanding season.
It was clear from the puck drop that another perfect game was not on the agenda for tonight. Mirroring the first game of the mini series Carolina came out red hot. Carolina outshot the Bolts 13-6 in the first period. Curtis McElhinney stayed solid but was far from the quality Tampa is used to with Andrei Vasilevskiy. Tampa’s defense was excellent getting pucks away and taking away rebounds. The Lightning were having difficulty getting chances at the other end. Tampa failed to convert all 3 power plays in the opening period. Brett Pesce scored his 2nd of the year for Carolina, at the 14:23 mark to send The Lightning to the dressing room down one.
Tampa made a parade to the penalty box throughout the second period. Bad penalties at horrible times. The Lightning had two Powrplays cut short due to unnecessary and undisciplined penalties. Despite that, Mikhail Sergachev evened the score at the 12:39 mark. The 23 year old Russian defenseman snuck a shot past James Reimer on the short side from a difficult angle. Tampa made their sloppy way to the 2nd intermission even at 1 with a chance to take the mini series and win their 3rd straight game.
Tampa Bay’s penalty box parade continued into the second period. Despite taking 6 minor penalties half of which were to Pat Maroon the score remained at 1-1. Curtis McElhinney had the Canes number. Tampa’s penalty kill wasn’t as good as it was lucky escaping 6-6 on the PK. The two teams combined for 11 minor penalties and both teams were held without any success on the powerplay. But one thing this Lightning team does great is find ways to win. Brayden Point was heavily covered for most of the game making it difficult to try and make an explosive play. It was Yanni Gourde who scored what would be the Game winner. Gourde who was spung into a scoring chance from a Victor Hedman stretch pass, firing the puck top cheddar over the shoulder of Reimer just under the cross bar. Curtis McElhinney who stopped a good shot from Jacob Slavin was credited with an assist on the goal as well. Carolina despite playing a very solid game once again couldn’t find the answer on the score sheet. Barclay Goodrow potted his 3rd empty net goal of the season to once again put the Hurricanes out of reach. Tampa Bay stopped the Hurricanes 3-1, giving them their 3rd straight victory over their division rivals.
One of the qualities that separates the Lightning from the rest of the league is they find ways to win. Carolina outplayed them tonight. The Canes shut down Stamkos, Hedman, and Point.Tampa was able to get goals from their depth players and defense and benefited again from excellent goaltending, this time from the 37 year old Back up. It wasn’t pretty, but a victory is a victory regardless. Tampa Bay improves to 13-4-1. The Lightning are just one point shy of the top spot in the Discover Central division, held my instate rivals Florida Panthers. Saturday will feature a rematch of the 2020 Stanley Cup finals as The Bolts host The Dallas Stars followed by a rematch in Dallas on Tuesday.