The Ottawa Senators continued their three game southern road trip with a stop in Florida to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa is firmly cemented in the 5th playoff spot and a date with either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. Ottawa started Curtis McElhinney, who has beaten Tampa twice already this month. It was most likely the final start of the season for the goalie who was making his last impression around the league before becoming a UFA in July. Tampa countered with Dwayne Roloson in the net.
Tampa showed some jump off the start, as they had a couple of solid chances in the first couple of minutes. Martin St. Louis split the defense and had a clear chance, and later in the shift Steven Stamkos fired a slapper from just inside the blue line, but both were turned away by McElhinney. The physical game showed up as Chris Neil was nearly steamrolled by Steve Downie crossing the blue line, but managed to duck out of the way. The Senators then took the play to the Lightning, with a number of scoring chances. The lively back boards would come into play many times on the night, the first of which was from Erik Karlsson, who dumped in a puck and slipped around a defenseman to get the bounce off the boards behind the net to get a solid scoring chance. Bobby Butler and Zach Smith both had scoring chances, before Stamkos decked Ryan Shannon with a hard but clean check. Nick Foligno confronted the Lighning sniper about the hit, and ended up getting the only penalty. Ottawa killed it off and went to the locker room in a scoreless tie.
Ottawa had the first chance early in the second as Jason Spezza picked up a puck off the back boards and tried to tuck it in the open cage from below the goal line. It was close, but slid straight through the crease and past the far post. Spezza then set up Colin Greening who drove up the middle but Roloson was equal to the task. Tampa got on the board first as Vincent Lecavalier and St. Louis were in front of the net and had 4 whacks at the puck between them before St. Louis finally put it behind McElhinney on his own third attempt. Moments later Lecavalier and Simon Gagne went in 2 on 1, but Vinnie’s feed to Gagne just eluded him and slid to the corner. Tampa did increase its lead when a shot off the backboards bounced into the crease and off the back of McElhinney’s foot to the goal line. The goalie recovered and pulled the puck off the line, while Dominic Moore shoved the glove and the puck into the net. Despite complaints from the Ottawa bench, the goal stood, and that was how the period ended, 2-0 in favor of the Lighting.
The third period was action packed as Tampa’s speed came to the forefront early on. Gagne and St. Louis broke in on Brian Lee, who could not stop the pass across the slot. St. Louis didn’t miss this time and put the Lightning up 3 goals with his second of the game. Ottawa finally got on the board when Spezza tucked a rebound past Roloson while falling to the ice. Tampa responded back moments later when a Dominic Moore’s centering pass was deflected in off David Hale‘s skate. Moore’s second of the game restored the tree goal cushion. Chris Neil and Steve Downie squared off for a great tilt in the Ottawa corner and both pugilists threw some wild haymakers, but few connected. It was an entertaining scrap that I would have to call a draw. Somehow Neil ended up getting an extra two minor penalties, giving Tampa a 4 minute power play with just under 8 minutes left. Ottawa proved to be dangerous shorthanded, and Milan Michalek converted a Filip Kuba feed to once again narrow the margin to two goals. Another Senators combeck was not in the works as Stamkos ended a 6 game scoreless drought by cashing in on the empty net to give the Lightning a 5-2 victory.
THE UP SIDE
Jason Spezza continues to excel in the waning days of the season.
Chris Neil had his first fight in 7 games, an entertaining bout with Steve Downie.
Curtis McElhinney allowed 4 goals, but couldn’t really be faulted on any of them.
THE DOWN SIDE
The defesive game wasn’t evident as they allowed St. Louis three whacks at a loose puck, couldn’t block a cross crease pass, and when they finally did that, they put it in their own net.
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MY THREE STARS
3rd Star – Jason Spezza, OTT – A goal, an assist and 14 for 21 in the faceoff circle.
2nd Star – Dwayne Roloson, TB- Thirty one saves for the veteran keeper, including many key saves early on.
1st Star – Martin St. Louis, TB – A pair of goals among his 5 shots on goal, was a presence all night.
If the empty net goal from Steven Stamkos gets him on a roll, the Lightning could make some noise in the playoffs. If he continues to play as frustrated as he did against Ottawa, they are in serious trouble. He led his club with 8 shots on goal, but you could see the frustration in his face througout the game, the look of a goal scorer who couldn’t get a bounce. After going almost 7 full games without a goal, I half expected him to fan on the open goal, thats how bad he seemed to be spiralling.