Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Game 39: The One With the Return of Palat

Game: 39
Opponent: Minnesota
Score: 3-2 (SO) Win

Two points is two points. That's all that matters in the end, right? The Lightning picked up two points against Minnesota and kept themselves in the playoff race. It doesn't matter that Tampa Bay dominated for the better part of two periods, building up a 25-15 lead in shots only to then get outshot 15-3 in the third period, right?

Oh and Ondrej Palat was back. The Triplets were back! Those are also good things. So why dwell on 20 minutes of bad hockey? The game got off to such a great start. The Lightning looked sharp on an early power play, they moved the puck with confidence, players moved without the puck to get open and most importantly – they got chances and took them. Sure they didn't score, but they had the Wild on their heels.

Then, halfway through the period, Valteri Filppula gets the puck on the wing, streaks across the blue line, uses his filthy little mitts to toe-drag around a sprawled defenseman and does what? Does he pass it to Alex Killorn? NO! He shoots! And he SCORES! It really was a beautiful display of skill.

Things are looking so good. Four minutes later, possibly out of sheer boredom (he had only made one save at this point) Andrei Vasilevskiy wanders out of his net to play a puck. Unfortunately his soft little pass went right to Charlie Coyle who backhanded it into the wide open net.

So despite outshooting and outplaying the Wild, the Lightning went into the intermission tied at 1 and I went to make tacos. It takes more than 17 minutes to cook and put together tacos so I missed MY BOY NIKITA KUCHEROV giving the Lightning a lead just a minute into the second period. Palat picked up an assist on Kucherov's 14th goal and team-leading 30th point.

From there on the rest of the second period was fairly even as both teams traded scoring chances. The third period as unfortunately all Minnesota as the Lightning got stuck in their own zone and never got out. The bunker mentality didn't pay off despite several key saves by Vasilevskiy, who more than made up for his earlier gaffe.

Overtime featured a few chances for the Lightning, but they were way more conservative with the puck than they had been in past extra sessions. Several times they skated the puck out of the offensive zone when they found themselves in trouble. In the skills competition Vasy came out on top stopping all three Minnesota shooters while Ryan Callahan used a nifty deke to fool Devan Dubnyk for the Lightning's lone tally.

Palat looked like he hadn't missed a beat due to his time off. He had 17 minutes of ice time, mostly with Kucherov and Tyler Johnson and looked like he rejuvenated his two teammates. Johnson played at a much higher pace than he did in his return last game and Kucherov looked to shoot the puck more than pass. Palat also showed that he wasn't shying away from contact when he absolutely leveled Coyle along the boards in overtime.

Look at the reaction from the guy on the right. Photo by Scott Audette (NHLI/Getty)

With Palat back and apparently healthy, Coach Cooper is back to having his two scoring lines (although why he broke up the Stamkos/Kucherov/Namestnikov line is beyond me). The Lightning head out west with a little momentum and if they stay healthy are poised to make a run up the standings. After all, if they can stay within 5 points of a top three spot in the division with Johnathan Marchessault, Mike Blunden and Mike Angelidis getting playing time, imagine what they can do with a healthy line up.

Did Matt Carle Get a Point?

Nope. This was a good game by Matt Carle standards. By that I mean I didn't realize he was playing until about halfway through the game. All-in-all he was on the ice for 15:27 seconds (including 1:11 of short-handed play). He was on the ice for Minnesota's game-tying score and looked to be a little late picking up Jared Spurgeon who pounced on the rebound in front of Vasilevskiy.

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