TAMPA – It didn’t take much to put some pep back in the Lightning players Saturday night after a demeaning loss in Boston. It only took about two days and just over seven minutes once the puck dropped, in fact.
February was a grueling month for Tampa Bay, playing 15 games in 28 days. The team burned out at the end of the stint with its three-goal loss to the Bruins, but came back refreshed and ready on Saturday night as it took down the Senators with ease 5-1.
“We definitely needed to find a win tonight,” Ryan McDonagh said after the game. “It was a step back towards where we want to be and you never want to let things snowball when it’s a negative side or a negative game. We’ve got a lot of experience and good leaders that want to make a stand here, especially at home.”
The team’s 50th win of the season matched the NHL record for the fewest games it has taken a team to get to 50 wins, previously set with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings when they improved to 50-12-4 after winning their 66th game of the season.
“I think that’s something we’ll look at down the road, a long time, and realize we have a special group here,” McDonagh said. “If we don’t realize that already, we should, but at the end of the day we know what we’re really striving for.”
Coach Jon Cooper isn’t sure what exactly has made this team more special than the ones he’s coached previously, but he does know this:
“As we’ve been winning here, I don’t know if we’re fully aware all the time,” he said. “A lot of the things I find out are in the media scrums after a win. It’s something you’ll always be able to look back and your name’s in the record books and I think years from now it will be pretty sweet."
The Lightning’s defense really stepped things up against the Senators, quite literally, providing for the team on both sides of the puck. Four out of five of Tampa Bay’s goals came from its defensemen.
McDonagh took the defensive goals as a good sign that the team wasn’t spending a lot of time in its own zone and the players were coming in fresh on each shift.
Victor Hedman opened up the scoring on the night, notching his ninth goal of the season. He took advantage of a rebound off Dan Girardi’s shot from the blue line and took a top-shelf shot, just past Ottawa’s Craig Anderson.
Less than two minutes later McDonagh got in on the action logging his seventh goal of the season.
Nikita Kucherov quickly traded off a pass to Erik Černák. McDonagh slipped just inside the sweet spot as Černák saw the gap and passed his line mate the puck.
McDonagh carried the pass just inside the face-off circle and cradled it along the toe of his stick before taking a shot at the top-left corner, bringing up the Lightning 2-0 before the halfway point of the first period.
Things continued to improve for the Lightning, on the scoring side of things, as Černák notched his third goal of the season in the first four minutes of the period and Kucherov logged his 106th point with a goal of his own toward the end of the second period. Mikhail Sergachev also got on the board notching his second goal in five games to open up the third period.
Cooper said there was a lot of chatter on the bench when Sergachev scored the fourth goal on the night.
“The pressure was on G (Dan Girardi) and Coby (Braydon Coburn),” he chuckled. “It’s good when you get the scoring from the back end. I liked the way we were moving the puck around and there was a big-time shooting mentality."
Andrei Vasilevskiy was almost perfect between the posts tonight, saving 36 shots on the night and only allowing Ottawa’s Anthony Duclair to get past him.
Steven Stamkos went scoreless on the night, not having scored a goal in since Feb. 18 against the Blue Jackets.
Lightning fans sucked a good bit of air out of the building when Stamkos took a hard hit from Ottawa’s Brian Gibbons. He crawled over toward the boards, keeping most of his weight on his knees and moved his gloves over his face as the play continued. It took him about 10 seconds to get up on his own and make his way back over to the bench.
He didn’t play for the remainder of the period but made his way back to the lineup to start the third. And Cooper wasn’t concerned with Stamkos’ moment after the game.
“That was a mandatory thing that he had to go,” Cooper said. “He (Stamkos) said he was fine on the bench.”
Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Hedman 9 (Girardi, Cirelli), 7:17. 2, Tampa Bay, McDonagh 7 (Kucherov, Cernak), 8:51. 3, Ottawa, Duclair 13 (Boedker, Gibbons), 9:28. Penalties—Palat, TB, (slashing), 14:43 Kucherov, TB, (hooking), 17:42.
Second Period—4, Tampa Bay, Cernak 3 (Coburn, Killorn), 3:15. 5, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 31 (Erne, Hedman), 15:27. Penalties—Kucherov, TB, Penalty Shot (interference on breakaway (penalty shot)), 5:06 Smith, OTT, (roughing), 7:12 Miller, TB, (roughing), 7:12 Joseph, TB, (interference), 10:22 Chabot, OTT, (tripping), 11:59 Ryan, OTT, (hooking), 16:01.
Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Sergachev 5 (Coburn, Killorn), 1:59. Penalties—Ottawa bench, served by Duclair (too many men on the ice), 16:24.
Shots on Goal—Ottawa 16-9-12_37. Tampa Bay 9-11-14_34. Power-play opportunities—Ottawa 0 of 3 Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Ottawa, Anderson 14-22-3 (34 shots-29 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 30-7-4 (37-36). A—19,092 (19,092).