Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bolts Win Streak Ends at 3 - Offense/Shootout Woes Continue

By JC De La Torre

Well, it was nice while it lasted. The Tampa Bay Lightning's modest three game win streak was snapped when the offense failed to produce and the bugaboo of the shootout reared its ugly head in a 2-1 shoot out loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

It was a tough, competitive hockey game for the Lightning against a playoff caliber opponent, a good measuring stick to see how far away they are from being a contender. The answer? Not too far if the last four games are to be believed. Tampa Bay has scoring power with superstars like Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and young players like Ryan Malone and Steven Stamkos. They just haven't been converting on their opportunities. Tampa Bay has scored three or less goals in thirty-four of their thirty-six games this season and in the new NHL, where scoring is a premium - that's just not going to get the job done.

Tampa Bay took the lead midway through the first on a power play goal by Vaclav Prospal. The 1-0 lead would hold until early in the third period, where 46 seconds into the period, Guillaume Latendresse tied the game on the rebound that hit Mike Smith and went into the net. Each team had chances to win in winding minutes of regulation, Tampa Bay's 6'5" behemoth Evgeny Artyukhin showed his strength and speed, bulling past the Montreal defense with 1:48 left in the period and slipped the puck through the five hole of Montreal goalie Carey Price but the odd angle saw the puck skid through the crease and safely wide of the net. Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn's blast went off the goal post with six seconds left in regulation, sending the game to overtime.

In the extra session, Artyukhin again showed his skill, bulling past a defender, exuding patience as Price flopped to the ice, but he couldn't get the shot high enough to finish the play, a minute later, Montreal's Maxim Lapierre had Mike Smith down and dead to rights but Smith robbed him with an unbelievable glove save that had Lapierre looking up to the hockey gods.

In the shootout, Smith wasn't very good, allowing Montreal's Alexei Kovalev and Maxim Lapierre to score pretty easily. The Lightning got a nifty goal from Jussi Jokinen, but Vaclav Prospal and Vincent Lecavalier failed in their opportunities to give Montreal the victory.

Tampa Bay earned points for the fourth straight game, while Montreal improved to 5-0-1 in their last six. Montreal did lose Alex Tanguay in the first period after being checked hard into the boards by Artyukhin. He reportedly has an upper body injury and is expected to undergo an MRI exam on today.

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