TAMPA – Playing in arguably their most balanced game of the season against one of the tops in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues, the Tampa Bay Lightning upset the Blues 4-2 tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
And with each opponent the Bolts face often being looked at as a new hurdle to jump, the last five periods of hockey for Tampa Bay have shown that these upper-echelon teams are more than manageable.
“We’re playing an elite team and I think we more than hung with them,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “The two points are the same, but the question isn’t being asked, ‘are you fortunate with those two points?’ and I think that’s great for us.”
“That’s a good team over there and we kept it going in the third period and kind of took over,” netminder Ben Bishop said. “I thought it was a little bit of a measuring stick for us.”
After getting the nod in net last night, Bishop has now played in 120 minutes of hockey in the past two days, but his performance showed everything but the signs of exhaustion, improving his record to 9-2-0. Bishop also held St. Louis to two goals, as he has allowed more than two tallies just two times this season.
“I feel fine. I was in the American Hockey League for three and a half years and I did it, who knows how many times,” Bishop said. “I think the AHL helps, sometimes you play three-in-three, so back-to-back with a charter plane isn’t too bad.”
The St. Louis Blues were first to put a marker on the board after Alex Pietrangelo, who nearly took the puck offsides, managed to keep it in and wristed a shot from the point. The shot beat Bishop for a 1-0 score at 7:50 of the opening frame.
Then Alex Killorn knotted the game at one three minutes later. Killorn’s first shot was no good, but he was able to cash-in his own rebound for a 1-1 score at 10:44.
“I have maybe had a little more space with the puck,” Killorn said. “Steven Stamkos and St. Louis command a ton of respect and a lot of guys seem to swarm to them when they have the puck, so it just leaves a little bit more room for me.”
Before the end of the first period defenseman Radko Gudas made a poor shot selection from the Lightning blue line that could have cost the Bolts a tally. After taking the shot, the Blues quickly turned it over with a block that sent St. Louis’ Chris Stewart on a breakway into Tampa Bay’s zone. Bishop was up for the challenge however and left the game locked at one by the end of the first period.
Less than two minutes into the second period the Lightning took the 2-1 lead as Stamkos avoided a block from the Blues and wristed the puck top shelf on goalie Jaroslav Halak for the one-goal lead. The tally was Stamkos’ fourth goal in as many games and also breaks the second-place tie (with the Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin) for goal in the NHL with 11.
Exactly two minutes later Jaden Schwartz tied the game at two as he beat Bishop stick side for the game-tying score. Yet Tampa Bay took the lead once again at 8:37 of the third period. Gudas took the initial shot, which Brett Connolly was able to tip-in for the, 3-2, go-ahead goal and his first of the season.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with him in the future, but for him to get the game-winner was good,” Cooper said. “I don’t think that’s the last goal Brett Connolly will score in the near future.”
Valtteri Filppula then helped the Bolts extend their lead by two goals. After handling the puck around the back of Halak’s net, Killorn sent a pass to Filppula, who was able to backhand the puck past the St. Louis’ netminder for a 4-2 lead with four minutes remaining in the contest. The tally was Filppula’s first goal in his past four games and Killorn’s third point of the night.
UP NEXT – With five days in between Tampa Bay’s next contest, the Lightning will take a day off tomorrow, before getting back to work on Monday. The Bolts face the Western Conference’s Edmonton Oilers Thursday and then embark on a three-game road trip that includes divisional match-ups with the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.