Lightning’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare drives fourth-line heroics

The veteran center scores a big goal and makes a key defensive play late in a win at Seattle.
Lightning center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) opened the scoring in Monday afternoon's 4-1 win over the Kraken in Seattle.
Lightning center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) opened the scoring in Monday afternoon's 4-1 win over the Kraken in Seattle. [ JEFF ROBERSON | AP ]
Published Jan. 17

SEATTLE — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare didn’t want to give himself too much credit following the Lightning’s 4-1 win over the Kraken Monday afternoon in Seattle.

Locked in a tight-checking game with not many scoring opportunities, Tampa Bay’s top offensive threats were quiet and the Lightning needed a jolt from their bottom two lines.

Bellemare doesn’t score much. His job is to center a fourth line focused on playing a heavy game and possessing the puck, winning faceoffs and being an anchor on the penalty kill.

But in a game like Monday’s, where Tampa Bay had to find its offensive game from somewhere other than its top-six forwards, Bellemare made sure he was in the right place at the right time.

In a first period that saw the Lightning make 25 shot attempts (15 on goal), they were sustaining zone time and pressuring the net. But it wasn’t until Bellemare deflected an Ian Cole shot past goaltender Philipp Grubauer with 1:17 left in the period that the Lightning were rewarded with a goal, the game’s only tally in the first two periods.

“It’s depth,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And that’s the difference with some teams. When you have some depth, it helps you win some hockey games, and in a game like (Monday’s), when (Nikita Kucherov) or (Steven Stamkos) or (Brayden Point) isn’t getting one, you need somebody like ‘Belly’ to get it for you, and it turns out to be a big one for us.”

After Corey Perry kept possession of the puck in the offensive zone and fed Cole at the left point, Bellemare went to the top of the crease. He set a screen, as did Vladislav Namestnikov in the slot, creating a lane for Cole to shoot through. Bellemare had his back to the puck, so Grubauer couldn’t see when Bellemare reached out his blade to redirect the puck for his second goal of the season.

“My first thought process is, like, make sure that my stick is in play, make sure it’s somewhere there so that I can have the shortest time going down or up in case I can tip it in if the shot is close enough,” Bellemare said. “And that shot was kind of in a perfect range. Sometimes when it’s really close, it’s a little bit tougher.

“I am not that good. There are much better players in the league, but I’m not that good at doing that. But this was kind of a perfect distance from my body to be able to tip it.”

Bellemare played just 7:50 of even-strength time (he also skated 2:34 on a penalty-kill that was a perfect 3-for-3) but made the most of his 5-on-5 time. The fourth line was able to dominate in zone time and had more shot attempts (nine) than it allowed (seven), with Perry’s eight attempts leading the team.

“We really take a lot of pride in our fourth line,” Cole said. “I mean, they’ve been in our eyes one of the best fourth lines in hockey the past couple years, and they can really drive play, especially in the offensive zone. We really like those guys’ ability to score goals and score big goals for us. They’re big-game players that have been around for a long time and can do that. So we rely on those guys, and they do a fantastic job for us.”

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Down the stretch, after the Kraken had cut the Lightning lead to one on Vince Dunn’s shot that ricocheted off Ian Cole’s pants into the net with 9:16 left, Bellemare prevented what could have been a game-tying breakaway by channeling his inner goaltender.

The Lightning’s goal in protecting the lead late was to keep the puck in the offensive zone as long as possible to prevent Seattle from getting any traction. With around six minutes left, the Kraken were buzzing around the puck but couldn’t get possession.

A pass from Victor Hedman to Bellemare at the point landed on Kraken forward Oliver Bjorkstrand’s stick, but Bellemare recovered, sealing off the blue line by going down to one knee and stopping Bjorkstrand’s pass with his left glove to keep it in the offensive zone.

“Oof, I got lucky,” Bellemare said afterward. “I got lucky.”

Had Bellemare not made the play, Bjorkstrand was one of three Kraken skaters heading the other way for an odd-man rush and a likely Grade-A scoring chance.

Asked whether the play was more luck than skill, Bellemare called it “a little bit of both.”

“I felt like I was kind of in a really awkward position. And I saw that (Bjorkstrand) didn’t have full control. So I was like, if I put as much of my body in front of it it shouldn’t go through, and lucky enough he went right in my mitt.

“The coaches trust us to put us in there (late in the game). It’s a high-risk play, but kind of my role is to be a little bit defensive and this is the kind of play that I have to be confident doing at times to be good for this team.”

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