The Tampa Bay Lightning put together one of their best team efforts of the young season as they defeated the San Jose Sharks, 5-2, in the St. Pete Times Forum tonight.
It was a night of “firsts” for Tampa Bay; the first time they have scored the opening goal in a game this season, the first win in net this year for Mike Smith, and the first NHL goal ever for rookie James Wright. The win was also the Lightning’s first over San Jose at home since Nov. 15, 2002, just shy of seven years.
The 13,343 fans in attendance had barely settled into their seats before Coach Rick Tocchet’s line change experiment paid early dividends. Wright, starting on the left side of the reconstituted Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis line, charged down the slot to the San Jose net, collected a cross-ice pass from St. Louis and put the puck behind Shark goaltender Evengi Nabokov just 30 seconds into the opening period. Lecavalier and St. Louis both earned assists on the score – for Lecavalier it was assist number seven on the season and for St. Louis, the assist extended his season-long scoring streak to nine games.
The Lightning stretched the lead to 2-0 at the 15:01 mark when Ryan Malone, battling with San Jose defender Rob Blake in front of the Shark net, was able to deflect a shot from the point by defenseman David Hale past Nabokov for his seventh goal of the season, and sixth in the last five games. The score moved Malone into a tie for second place in goals scored among all NHL skaters.
The Lightning opened the second period defending their 2-0 lead with an aggressive forecheck that pinned the Sharks in their own zone for long stretches. But it was a turnover in their own end that led to the Lightning’s lead being cut to one goal. At 12:34, San Jose forward Ryan Vesce found the puck in a goal mouth scramble and backhanded it past Smith to put the Sharks on the scoreboard.
But if the San Jose goal put the Lightning back on their heels, and for a while it appeared to, it was Steven Stamkos who quelled the Shark’s surge when, with just over three minutes remaining in the period, he stole the puck from Nabokov behind the San Jose net, skated unmolested out into the slot and, after fanning on his first attempt, connected on a wrist shot that restored the Lightning lead to two goals. The goal, number five for Stamkos on the season, was unassisted.
Just 2:54 into the final stanza Andrej Meszaros gave Tampa Bay some insurance when his shot from just inside the blue line was tipped by a San Jose defenseman and rocketed under Nabokov’s glove for the Lightning’s fourth goal of the game. The goal, assisted by Todd Fedoruk and Stephane Veilleux, was the 2nd this season for Meszaros.
Former Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle brought the Sharks closer with just over six minutes remaining when his power play shot eluded sticks and skates and Mike Smith, who was screened on the play. But that was as close as the Shark’s would get as the Lightning put the cherry on a good effort when Alex Tanguay fed a pass to Stamkos, who glided the puck into the empty San Jose net for his second goal of the game with just 19 seconds remaining on the clock.
Tanguay gave up what would be his first goal of the season when he slipped the puck to his right to Stamkos.
“To me, making the pass is as rewarding as getting the goal,” Tanguay smiled. “Stamkos is hot and with the way I’ve been snake bit I didn’t want to miss the net. I felt I was pretty safe giving it to him.”
Smith ended the night with 32 saves, several of them from point-blank range, and had his best effort of the season to date.
“I really focused on my practices this week,” Smith explained. “I made sure I was ready for this game.”
He was ready for it, and so was everyone else on the bench.
But Tocchet warned against taking too much from the strong effort.
“We can’t go this road where we’re too high or too low,” Tocchet cautioned. “It was nice to win; back to work tomorrow. I think that’s the key.”
Undoubtably, he is correct. But still, it was a heck of a game.
Bolt Notes: The Lightning held both Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton to zero shots on the night…Tampa Bay only had one power play all game…Zenon Konoka continued his dominance in the faceoff circle, winning six of seven draws…The Lightning blocked 12 shots, led by Victor Hedman with three…Wright, Hale, Downie and Fedoruk all nabbed their first points of the year.
tampabaylightning.com is the official Web site of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay Lightning and tampabaylightning.com are trademarks of Lightning Hockey L.P. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2013 Lightning Hockey, L.P. and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.