After a long layoff, the Tampa Bay Lightning came into this game a bit rusty. That showed in their inability to make good decisions with the puck. The result was an avoidable 4-0 loss to a much improved Carolina Hurricanes team. Both teams had chances, with one team bearing down defensively while the other played with reckless abandon.
Coming off a bad 6-4 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Lightning started Saturday night’s game sluggishly. They were chasing a Hurricanes team that played 24 hours ago. It was noticeable early, as Erik Cernak took a tripping penalty less than a minute in. The penalty kill continued their solid work of late, allowing no shots to a lethal power play. The Lightning got some energy from that, with almost every line peppering third string goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. He looked unfazed by the pressure, making a number of big stops. Not to be outdone, Andrei Vasilevskiy continued his success against the Canes by making a few huge saves of his own in a scoreless first period.
Entering the middle frame, the Lightning knew they needed a start fast. They did that, with Blake Coleman feeding Barclay Goodrow. Nedeljkovic made one of his best stops though, denying the Bolts a sure goal. Two minutes later, a bad bounce ended up on Vincent Trocheck’s stick and then behind Vasilevskiy for a 1-0 Hurricanes lead. Minutes later, the Bolts got a break when Sebastian Aho was penalized for slashing. They squandered the two minutes, allowing Nino Niederreiter a short handed breakaway that Vasilevskiy had to stop. The top line had a couple of chances but Nedeljkovic said no. Clearly frustrated, Brayden Point turned the puck over inside the defensive zone. Aho made him pay, sprinting towards Vasilevskiy before firing the puck top shelf to make it 2-0 with about four minutes remaining in period 2. The line of Mathieu Joseph, Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson got a few more chances, but none would go.
Facing a two goal deficit entering the third period, the Lightning showed little fight. A lot of offensive zone time by the Hurricanes left them scrambling. That directly led to former Bolt Cedric Paquette’s first goal as a member of the Canes, making it 3-0. There were a few chances after that, but Nedeljkovic refused to budge. From there, the Bolts had a few bad habits creep back into their game. A turnover entering the zone gave Andrei Svechnikov a look at an empty net. He didn’t miss, making it 4-0 Canes.
After a 9-1-1 start, the Lightning have lost three of their last four games. In that span, they’ve been outscored 16 to 12. While that isn’t a big disparity, the fact they have given up multiple goals via turnovers is a problem. Vasilevskiy suffered his first regulation loss against the Hurricanes in a couple of years. Meanwhile, Nedeljkovic made 24 saves in what was his first career shutout.
The Lightning will look to right the ship when they face these same Hurricanes on Monday, February 22 in Raleigh. Puck drop is at 7 PM EST.