TAMPA – The Lightning knew games would get tighter after the all-star break. But it would have been hard to predict just how immediate that change would be.
Since the break, the Lightning has played four games of a one-goal differential and one decided by two. Three of those five have gone into overtime, two needed a shootout. The Lightning has now lost both of its home games since coming off the road last week. It’s only the second time this season Tampa Bay has posted back-to-back losses and the first time it has been shut out.
“The end of the seasons seems closer in our minds as players and teams," Ryan McDonagh said after the 1-0 overtime loss. “You try to get as many points as you can and every opponent we’re facing is still trying to get into the playoffs. And that includes us. We’re trying to be as consistent as we can both offensively and defensively and be a little bit more aware of where we’re putting pucks and making plays with the puck on our sticks. A lot of the things we did in the third were positive. We just have to keep fine tuning, and keep finding points.”
McDonagh and coach Jon Cooper made references after the game that the team was returning to old habits of trying to score the perfect goal instead of the one they have the opportunity to take in the moment.
The Lightning and Blues battled it out through three periods before a puck found its way past a 6-foot goalie and into the back of the net. It just so happened to fall in the St. Louis’ favor with a minute left in overtime.
St. Louis’ Brayden Schenn had a breakaway that went off Andrei Vasilevskiy’s pad and dribbled into the net.
The Blues had 14 shots in the first period compared to the Lightning that had 14 shot attempts, including those that didn’t make it through St. Louis’ goaltender Jordan Bennington. Cooper felt Tampa Bay did a better job as the game went on with the Lightning taking 27 shot attempts in the third period, 11 of those on net.
“We obviously got a lot of skill, and trying to get our (defensemen) involved,” McDonagh said after the 1-0 overtime loss. “I think one thing we’ll look at in that third period is that we put a lot more pucks to the net to start our offense’s own play and sometimes we can get a little too fancy so to speak and look for that extra pass and hold on to pucks long as opposed to putting it on net and breaking down coverage that way.”
After a quiet first, Tampa Bay came out strong in the second period. The team relied on its defense to kill three penalties, all which came in the first 10 minutes of the period.
The team took three penalties within 5:25. The penalties added up quickly, forcing the team to never go more than 1:18 at full-strength in that stint. The penalty kill has been one of the Lightning’s strengths recently. Coming into Thursday’s matchup, the Lightning has gone 31-for-34 in the last 11 games.
Despite the overtime loss, Vasilevskiy had solid night logging 38 saves in 64:01 minutes of play.
Before the game, Cooper said the St. Louis Blues were a different team than they were a month ago. He was right. Before the Christmas break, the Blues were 27th in the league and St. Louis came into the game just one point away from a wild card spot.
“You’re getting teams best every night because you’re almost in those do or die situations,” Cooper said. “They were probably left for dead a month and a half ago...and now look at them, one of the hottest teams in the league and nipping at a playoffs spot.”
Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.