The Tampa Bay Lightning entered their Saturday night contest seven points ahead of the National Hockey League’s second place team and on pace to finish the season with more points than any team since the 1996 season. Still, the Bolts took the ice against the San Jose Sharks with a bad taste in their mouths after falling to Atlantic Division rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 on Thursday. The loss was the team’s second in three games, and it came less than two weeks after the Lightning lost to the Sharks 5-2 in San Jose. In many ways, Saturday’s game felt like a must-win for a Bolts team that will not see the Sharks until a potential Stanley Cup matchup in the summertime.
The Sharks entered Amalie Arena having won eight of their last 10, and the Bolts hadn’t lost consecutive games since falling to Ottawa and Buffalo back in November, but the Lightning ultimately washed themselves clean of recent poor performances during a convincing 6-3 win in front of another sold-out home crowd.
The Bolts got off to a quick start, too, thanks to rookie Mathieu Joseph (fresh off being a healthy scratch against Toronto) who hammered a rebound home for his 12th goal of the season. The tally put the Lightning up 1-0 less than five minutes into the game, and Alex Killorn added another when he scored his 11th of the 2018-19 campaign to put the Bolts up 2-0 with just 2:09 left in the frame. The Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy looked like a goaltender ready to bounce back from a loss, but soft defense forced him to concede an Evander Kane power play goal to the Sharks who put 16 pucks on frame in the first.
Shots went 13-13 in a second frame that saw the Sharks even the score less than a minute into the period, but the Lightning looked much better against a formidable San Jose squad that was without its all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson. And while Stamkos couldn’t find the back of the net on his shot with 12:31 left in the game, Lightning center Yanni Gourde did when the Stamkos attempt bounced off the boards for an easy goal that was Gourde’s 12th of the year (and his first in nine games). The Bolts went on a 5-on-3 power play at one point the period, which found Victor Hedman scoring his second goal in two games as the first Sharks penalty expired. The score put the Bolts up 4-2, and the Lightning closed the period off much stronger than they did in the first by hanging on to the two-goal lead.
The third period belonged to the captain, who scored his 25th goal of the season just five minutes into the final frame. Kucherov’s assist on the Stamkos goal extended the Russian’s league lead for multi-point games (24), and Stamkos would get another goal during a power play where he parked in his office and launched a rocket past Jones, who ended up stopping just 20 of the 26 shots he faced. Vasilevskiy was pretty pissed off about letting a soft Sharks goal by late in the third, but he should be happy with a performance that saw him stop 37 of the 39 shots he faced.
The cynics in the fan base will wonder what the game might’ve looked like if one of the NHL’s top defenders was in the lineup considering the fact that Karlsson (who was a scratch) and San Jose’s Brent Burns limited the Bolts to just 20 shots in the last meeting between these teams. Overall, the Bolts should feel good about the scoreline and effort they produced heading into the all-star break.
The Lightning non all-stars are set to enjoy 10 days between games. The Bolts’ next home game is on February 5 against the Las Vegas Knights.