Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rally Falls Short, But Bolts Are Turning it Around

By JC De La Torre

Under former Head Coach Barry Melrose, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked like dead men skating. Under new interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet, the team showed passion, guts, and determination in blistering a Lightning team record 52 shots on goal and rallying from a 3 goal deficit before finally falling to their hated rival Florida Panthers in their albatross - the shootout.

Tampa Bay outshot their opponent in each of the 3 periods for the first time this season, but in the 1st it got them little, as the Panthers Bryan McCabe and David Booth found the back the net for a 2-0 lead. McCabe scored again in the 2nd period on the power play to stake Florida to a 3-0 advantage and seemingly insurmountable lead with stellar Panthers Goalie Tomas Vokoun between the pipes but midway through the 2nd, the game turned. Steven Stamkos, who played a career high 17:55 alternating between the top two lines and leading all Lightning players with 9 shots on the night, drove toward the net, setting up a scoring chance for the snakebit Radim Vrbata. Vrbata finally broke through, depositing the puck to cut the Panthers advantage to 3-1.

The goal energized the Lightning, who dominated the game from that point on. Tampa Bay drew within one on a Gretzky-esque play behind the net, feeding a charging Evgeny Artyukhin who jammed it in to cut the Panthers lead to 1. Defenseman Steve Eminger, acquired in the Matt Carle Philly deal, completed a 3 point night with his first goal as a member of the Tampa Bay Lighting and ended a goal drought of 63 games, tying the game at 3 with a blast from the point with only 2:51 left in the game.

That goal got the Bolts a point in the standings after being blown out (at least on the scoreboard) through the first half of the game. Tomas Vokoun may have been the only reason the Panthers emerged from this one victorious for Florida. Vokoun was outstanding, making 49 saves, including a stick check of Vaclav Prospal who was charging to the net, stopping a last second shot by Mark Recchi wide with a stick. Vokoun also benefited from a little luck, as with three second left in overtime, Paul Ranger's slapper went off the glove of a spralling Panthers defenseman and trickled wide.

Many of Steven Stamkos' minutes were spent alternating between Center and Right Wing on the number one line with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

"I felt like I was in the game," Stamkos told the St. Petersburg Times, "I had a ton of shots and felt great. We dominated them tonight, outshot them and outplayed them in their end. When you're not winning, these games slip by you."

Tocchet agreed but still believed there was a lot to work on, "There were so many good things," Tocchet said, "(On the penalty kill that failed twice against the league's worst power play) We have to start boxing out a little better, The defense has to start taking sticks."

As for their sixth shootout loss, Vokoun was again the difference. After Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier and Jussi Jokinen and Florida's Stephen Weiss failed, Nathan Horton - Lightning Killer extraordinare, deked and found the back of the net past Lightning goalie Mike Smith. Martin St. Louis was stoned on his last chance, giving the Panthers the victory.

Tocchet took responsibility for another failed shootout for the Bolts, telling the Times, "It's probably our fault, we have not practiced penalty shots much this year. It's on my list, trust me, on the top."

"Tocch", as he's called by his players, better hurry as the shootout right now is the difference between Tampa Bay being near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and contending for a playoff spot. If Tampa Bay had just taken 3 of the 6 shootouts they have lost, they would be 8th in the Eastern Conference right now instead of 13th.

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