The Lightning came away with one point against the New Jersey Devils tonight, but the opportunity to get two points was certainly there. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay couldn’t close out the deal and lost the game in a shootout.
Once again, the Lightning jumped out to a lead with just 4:33 gone in the opening period. Ryan Malone controlled a pass in front of the New Jersey goal crease from Martin St. Louis, and with New Jersey netminder Kevin Weekes believing that Malone would pivot to his left, he didn’t, and spun to his right and easily found the back of the net for his 20th goal of the season. Vincent Lecavalier also was credited with an assist on the score.
Just over eight minutes later, Malone was back on the score sheet with his second goal of the game and 21st of the season when he fluttered a shot from the left face-off circle that tipped off Weekes’s glove before landing in the net. Lecavalier picked up his second assist of the night, and defenseman Matt Smaby also was awarded an assist on the goal.
As period one came to a close, the Lightning seemed on the verge of dominating the game. Although they outshot the Devils in the opening stanza by just three shots, 14-11, they had twice as many scoring chances (8-4) and were controlling the flow of the game.
But the second period played out very differently than the first one had.
With Vincent Lecavalier off the ice for tripping just 44 seconds into the second period, the Devils began to climb back into the contest when Brian Rolston’s shot from the point dribbled past Lightning netminder Karri Ramo. The power play goal came at 2:16 of the stanza.
Although the shots on net for the period were even, 12 to 12, New Jersey applied extended pressure as they kept the puck bottled in the Tampa Bay defensive zone for long stretches.
Ramo, who finished the night with 39 saves, made one acrobatic stop after another to maintain the Tampa Bay advantage and the Lightning headed to the locker room with a 2-1 lead and 20 minutes of hockey to play.
But New Jersey didn’t need much time to even the contest at 2-2; just 73 seconds of playing time in the third.
With St. Louis whistled for hooking, the New Jersey power play struck for the second time when Zach Parise, who had sat out almost all of period two with flu-like symptoms, returned to collect his 35th goal of the season. After Jamie Langenbrunner’s shot from the high slot deflected off New Jersey forward Travis Zajac, the puck fell onto Parise’s stick in front of the crease. Parise whipped the rebound past Ramo and the game was tied.
The New Jersey power play finished the night with 2 goals on 4 opportunities, while Tampa Bay was scoreless with 4 extra attacker chances.
Both clubs battled through the remainder of the third period but neither could get the go-ahead goal.
Tampa Bay had their best chance when Evengy Artyukhin picked up a pass behind the New Jersey defense and skated in alone on Weekes. Weekes got his pad on Artyukhin’s blast from 15 feet out and sent the puck harmlessly into the corner of the rink.
After the five-minute four-on-four overtime could not decide the contest, the game came down to the shootout. Lecavalier opened with a goal past Weekes, his second in two shootout opportunities against the former Lightning goaltender.
Parise, shooting next, evened the score when he lifted a backhander over Ramo.
After Patrik Elias deked and went to his left to beat Ramo and Vaclav Prospal and Malone were unsuccessful, New Jersey had the win, 3-2.
Tampa Bay’s shootout record dropped to 2-7 for the season and the Lightning closed out their six-game homestand with a 2-3-1 record.
There will be no time to dwell over this loss for the Lightning, as they left immediately after the game for Raleigh, where they face the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night. No sense looking back, when there are still games to be played.
“We’re playing to compete,” Tampa Bay forward Jeff Halpern said. “We’re going to regroup and make a night of it tomorrow.”
Martin St. Louis
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