Entering Saturday’s game against the Islanders, talk resonated around the St. Pete Times Forum regarding the first-ever matchup between the top two picks in June’s draft, John Tavares and Victor Hedman.
But after 60 minutes of play, a different first became the story of the night:: Hedman’s first career NHL goal.
The rookie defenseman capped the Lightning’s 4-0 victory as Vincent Lecavalier fed a pass across the slot right on the tape of Hedman’s stick as he was streaking down the left flank. The assist was the Lightning captain’s second of the night.
“My first-ever NHL goal feels pretty awesome. Let’s hope it doesn’t take 28 more games to get the next one,” Hedman said. “It was a great goal, and I promised my friends back home we’d have a celebration, so it was definitely awesome. It’s been a couple of games that I had a lot of good opportunities. I’ve fanned on a few shots and the puck has gone over my stick too, but it felt good to finally get one.”
Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith stopped all 30 shots faced and recorded his first shutout since Dec. 23, 2008 coming on a 2-0 victory over Pittsburgh. Smith was honored as the game’s first star and stands just four away from his 50th career win in net.
“It’s very rewarding. Personally I’ve been working really hard and it seems like I haven’t gotten rewarded for it. I’ve played some good hockey, but pucks go in the net and ultimately we’re losing hockey games which we need to win,” the Lightning net minder said. “More importantly, it’s a big win for our team. It’s important to stay close to the pack this time of year and not separate yourself too far.”
Malone put the Lightning up 1-0 just 95 seconds into the game after slapping the puck away from Dwayne Roloson and into the net for his 16th of the season. Several Islander players pleaded against the goal, but the Lightning forward was credited with the mark, currently ranking him tied for fifth place among all NHL goal-scorers.
“He whacked at it like five times and there’s no whistle, so yeah, you sort of expect for there to be a stoppage in play. But I guess everybody makes mistakes,” Roloson said.
Steve Downie, who entered the contest with four points in his last six contests, marked the score sheet for the third consecutive game scoring a power play goal at 19:08 in the first period to put the Lightning up by a pair. Both Martin St. Louis and Andrej Meszaros each recorded their second assist on the night coming on Downie’s fifth of the season.
The Islanders thought they had finally lit the scoreboard with under a minute left in the middle frame, but Kyle Okposo’s goal was disallowed because of a hand pass from rookie John Tavares, allowing the Lightning to carry the two-goal advantage into the final period.
The Bolts added to the lead at 2:58 in the third period with the man advantage on a goal by Halpern, who along with Downie, tallied his fifth point in the past seven games in the contest.
The Islanders appeared to have broken Smith again five minutes through the third, but for the second time, the goal was disallowed as a result of goaltender interference.
“It just wasn’t our night,” Islanders head coach Scott Gordon said. “To have two goals called back, it just wasn’t our night. Mike Smith was obviously on top of his game.”
Said Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet: “We needed something good. Obviously Mike Smith was excellent tonight, and it was nice. I was real happy for him. He made some really good saves out there and was definitely the difference maker for us.”
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