The @TBLightning collected their 55th win and 114th point to establish single-season franchise marks, after also doing so in 2017-18 (54-23-5, 113 points). #NHLStats #WSHvsTBL pic.twitter.com/MC9nnCXLNS— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 17, 2019
To many, Tom Wilson is a bag of trash. No NHL player has been penalized more than the Washington Capitals right winger whose controversial playing style includes a blurring of the NHL’s ambiguous rules regarding upper-body contact. The league’s top delinquent showed his ass again on Saturday night by landing a controversial hit on Mikhail Sergachev which sent the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman off for the remainder of the frame (Wilson also tried to fight Bolts defenseman Erik Cernak at the end of tonight’s game).
All of that didn’t matter, however, as Alex Killorn scored three goals — including a third period empty-netter — that powered the Lightning to a 6-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup champions. The matchup against the Capitals, standings-wise, felt inconsequential, but the first regular season contest against the team that knocked the Lightning out of the 2018 playoffs was as tense as fans expected it to be (Wilson, for his part was a non-factor outside of the Sergachev hit; Bolts youngsters Mathieu Joseph and Anthony Cirelli also did their part to police the caveman on skates)
The Lightning entered Saturday’s contest averaging nearly four goals per game and closed the first frame up 3-1 thanks in large part to Killorn who tallied two goals (including an impressive second goal that saw him muscle Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen off the puck) and Tyler Johnson who also hustled hard after a Washington neutral zone turnover to score his 26th goal of the season. The physical period saw the Bolts out hit the Capitals 14-9, but also lose Sergachev who left the game after the Wilson hit, which looked clean (although Wilson may have left his feet a bit).
Sergachev returned to play six shifts (5:05 minutes) in the second, but the Bolts were victims of a soft interference call that sent Kucherov to the box, which allowed Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin to send a signature slapper past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and cut the lead to 3-2. Credit the Capitals who outshot the Lightning 13-5 in a frame that saw the defending champs take the momentum from a home team that was horrible on its own second period power play (despite impressive play from Vasilevskiy who stopped 12 of 13 of the shots that Washington put on frame).
Cernak, thankfully, was able to right the ship for the Bolts early in the third when he put a shot through the legs of Washington netminder Braden Holtby to put the Lightning up 4-2. And despite the best efforts of Ovechkin (who scored his second goal of the game to make it 4-3 with just over seven minutes left in the third), the Lightning were able to earn their 55th win (a franchise record) and head into their next two matchups with the Capitals (March 20 in the nation’s capital, March 30 in Tampa) with their heads held high.
As Lightning beat reporter Bryan Burns points out, the Bolts’ magic number to clinch Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference is now two. Tampa Bay, according to Burns, is also guaranteed to finish above everybody in the East except for the Boston Bruins who batted to a 2-1 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight.
The Lightning’s next home game is on Monday, March 18 against the Phoenix Coyotes. Puck drop for that matchup is at 7:30 p.m. EDT.
The @TBLightning recorded the 12th instance in NHL history that a team has recorded 55+ wins in a season and just the fourth in the last 22 years. The others:— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 17, 2019
WSH: 55 in 2016-17 and 56 in 2015-16
DET: 58 in 2005-06#NHLStats #WSHvsTBL pic.twitter.com/vKUpsICdxV
Stay plugged in to all the Tampa Bay news — subscribe to CL's newsletters.