As the game neared the halfway point of the first period, it looked like the Lightning opened the scoring when brown paw managed to slide the puck past Elvis Merzlikins, but Columbus challenged goaltender interference and, according to the NHL, video review determined that Corey Perry had a significant presence in the crease which hurt Merzlikins’ ability to play his position.
With the game still tied 0-0, Columbus opened the scoring with 3:57 left in the first with Jakub Voracek scoring his sixth goal of the season.
The Lightning were able to respond in the second period with Nikita Kucherov score on the power play to tie the game at one. Like so many of Tampa Bay’s goals in recent weeks, Kucherov’s 25th of the year was assisted by Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos. The trio have now recorded 55 points over the last seven games with 17 goals and 38 assists.
Tampa Bay’s lead didn’t last long, with Cole Sillinger coming right back for Columbus and scoring just 32 seconds after Kucherov’s goal to restore a one-goal lead for the Blue Jackets.
After a scrimmage late in the third period ended with the Lightning getting an extra penalty called against them, Columbus opened the third period on the power play and extended their lead to 3-1 with Jack Roslovic scoring just 15 seconds after the start of the period.
The Blue Jackets extended their lead to 4-1 after Oliver Bjorkstrand scored his 27th goal of the season with 10:55 left in the game.
Tampa Bay kept shooting Brian Elliot with just over five minutes remaining in regulation time hoping to get back into the game. After Kucherov was taken down in the Columbus area, the Bolts returned to the power play and earned their second goal of the game with the man advantage as Corey Perry scored his 18th of the year to bring Tampa back Bay in half with 3:06 remaining.
With Elliott fired, the Lightning kept pushing, but Andrew Peeke was able to find the empty net for Columbus with 1:51 remaining to seal the deal.
The loss ended a four-game winning streak for Tampa Bay, which was playing outstanding hockey over that four-game span.
After the Boston Bruins defeated the Buffalo Sabers on Thursday night, the Lightning’s playoff opponent is still up in the air and will be decided tomorrow night. The Bolts are still one point ahead of Boston in the Atlantic Division standings.
After a flat night against Columbus on Thursday, Tampa Bay will be looking to come out Friday night with more juice as they prepare for the playoffs.
Here’s what we learned from Thursday’s loss to Columbus.
Video: Jon Cooper | Post-match 28.04.22
1. NOT ENOUGH EFFORT
After Thursday night’s loss, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was asked what more he wanted to see in Friday night’s game against the Islanders.
“Effort,” Cooper replied.
It was just a flat night for the Bolts, who never felt like they were fully committed to the game. Pat Maroon felt the same after the loss.
“We just didn’t play well tonight,” Maroon said. “There has been no change in momentum. We have to be better.
“Be committed, be focused, be ready. As an individual entering the playoffs, you want to feel good about yourself. You want to feel like you’re doing the right things and playing the right way.
“As an individual, go out there and try as hard as you can. Work hard.”
These games take place over the course of an 82-game season, often for teams that have already clinched a playoff berth and have just finished the regular season.
That doesn’t seem like a major issue for Tampa Bay at all. What’s important is that they came out of the match healthy. The team has had a great season and, like I said, these games are happening. There are enough veterans in this locker room to put things in the right direction.
“We have a group of veterans here,” Cooper said. “I have to impose that on a lot of guys in the leadership group room to get that group together for tomorrow, but listen, I look at this team and what they’ve given us all year and it’s been outstanding.
“Tonight was not one of those nights.”
Tomorrow’s game will be more important than tonight’s game. It’s the last dress rehearsal for the Lightning, who have one more chance to step up their game and move in the right direction heading into the playoffs.
Video: [email protected]: Kucherov saves PPG equalizer, 25th of the season
2. STRIPED MORE
While it may not have been an ideal night for Tampa Bay as a team, it was good to see the trio of Stamkos, Hedman and Kucherov continue to score and stay hot heading into the playoffs.
Looks like Stamkos is reaching a milestone with every game at this stage. In my opinion, Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier are the top two scorers in Lightning franchise history. Tonight, their names were mentioned together a few times.
With two assists on the game, Stamkos recorded his eighth straight multi-point game for Tampa Bay. This tied Lecavalier’s record for the longest consecutive multi-point game streak in Lightning franchise history.
The Bolts captain continued to climb the all-time rankings, with his second assist tying Lecavalier for the second most assists in Tampa Bay franchise history. It was Stamkos’ 491st career and the 64th this season for the Markham, Ont., native.
Prior to this season, Stamkos had never recorded more than 59 assists in a single season. He is now at a career-high 103 points on the year.
As for Kucherov, he scored for the eighth consecutive game, which ties Brian Bradley for the longest goal streak in Lightning franchise history and also matches the longest streak in the NHL this season.
Kucherov currently plays hockey for Tampa Bay, scoring 14 goals in the last 14 games and hitting the 25-goal mark for the seventh consecutive season, despite playing only 46 games.
Hedman also stayed hot with another multi-point game, adding to his assists (64) and points (83) totals with his fifth multi-point contest in the last seven games.
His 64 assists are tied with Stamkos for the most at Tampa Bay this season, while his seven-game point streak matches his career high. He recorded 16 points during that seven-game span with one goal and 15 assists.
Video: TBL Recap: Kucherov extends his scoring streak to 8 games
3. TORONTO OR CAROLINA?
The Lightning know they’re in the playoffs and will start on the road, but who will be their opponent?
This question will carry over into the last day of the regular season, with the Bolts facing either the Carolina Hurricanes or the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tampa Bay will have to win its last game of the season against the Islanders or hope the Bruins lose their regular season finale to Toronto in regulation to secure the third seed in the Atlantic Division and avoid making the playoffs. playoffs as a wild card team.
The Bolts can also secure all three seeds if they and Boston lose in overtime or a shootout on Friday.
If the Lightning win the third seed in the Atlantic, they will travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. If the Bolts finish as the first wild card, they will start the playoffs in Raleigh against the Hurricanes.
The Lightning have faced the Maple Leafs four times this season and are 2-1-1. The most recent game was on April 21, when Tampa Bay earned a dominating 8-1 win over Toronto at AMALIE Arena.
That being said, the Maple Leafs were missing Auston Matthews that night, but the Lightning were also missing Brayden Point. It would be a series filled with speed and skill, with both teams having a ton of high-end talent up front.
On the other side, the Bolts have faced the Hurricanes three times this season, with Tampa Bay going 1-1-1.
The teams last met on March 29, again at AMALIE Arena, with the Lightning winning 4-3 in overtime. Stamkos recorded a three-point night with one goal and two assists, including the overtime win tally.
All three games between Carolina and Tampa Bay this season have been decided by one goal and two of them have gone to overtime. Carolina, like Toronto, has plenty of talent up front and has played well under head coach Rod Brind’Amour.
The Eastern Conference is going to be tough to get through this year no matter who plays the Lightning in the first round. Unfortunately, we won’t know who that opponent is until tomorrow night.