Lightning rally in third to cap off homestand with win over Blue Jackets
TAMPA — Closing their six-game homestand Thursday night against a Blue Jackets squad with the fewest points in the Eastern Conference, the Lightning caught themselves skating through a slog.
Tampa Bay regained its rhythm during the home stretch, playing quickly in the offensive zone and with precise detail in its own end. But against a Columbus team decimated by injury, it found itself tied entering the final period.
The Lightning found their game in the end, the top scoring line leading the way with three third-period goals as Tampa Bay pulled away for a 4-1 win.
Brayden Point scored the go-ahead goal just over nine minutes into the third, Brandon Hagel found the back of the net twice after that and Nikita Kucherov assisted on all three goals.
The Lightning (19-9-1, 39 points) finished the homestand 5-1-0 and have won six of their last seven and 12 of 15 as they look forward to a four-game road trip beginning Saturday in Montreal.
They are 8-2-0 when tied after two periods.
“I like the way the guys have done it on this (homestand),” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. " Going into the third periods, we’ve had leads and we’ve been tied and we’ve pushed in that period like we did (Thursday), and points are following. So it was a good homestand, and on the defensive side of things we’ve gotten much better as things went on.”
Point’s goal wasn’t exactly by design, but the puck ended up where it needed to be — in the back of the net.
Hagel sent the puck to Kucherov skating through the neutral zone. As he crossed the blue line, Kucherov’s pass deflected off Point’s skate back to him and he tapped the puck to Hagel in the right circle. Hagel passed for Point at the far post, but the puck went off the stick of Columbus defenseman Marcus Bjork toward the net. Goaltender Daniil Tarasov made the save, but Point pushed in the rebound to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead.
Hagel said he wanted to get the puck to Point, who has six goals, including three winners, over a five-game goal streak. Point’s 16 goals this season are tied with Steven Stamkos for the team lead.
“When a guy’s hot, he’s hot, and that’s what ‘Pointer’’s been doing,” Hagel said. “He just keeps getting better, and it’s fun to watch.”
Kucherov’s pass to Hagel minutes later was a clean one. He sent the puck across the ice to the wide-open Hagel, who scored from just inside of the right circle to give the Lightning a two-goal cushion with 6:24 remaining.
Kucherov then passed up an empty net in the final minutes, feeding Hagel to make it 4-1. It was Hagel’s 10th goal of the season.
“I guess that’s why he’s got a letter on his jersey,” Hagel said, referring to the “A” Kucherov wears as an alternate captain. “That’s respect to him. Thinking about it now, maybe should have given (the puck) back, but I’ll take it.”
The Lightning survived a second-period push by the Blue Jackets. Despite being outshot 11-8 in the period, they didn’t allow many dangerous chances. But they were lulled into a perimeter game in the offensive zone.
“I thought when we got to the offensive zone we weren’t deliberate enough going to the net, and I thought we got better at that in the third,” Cooper said. “‘Pointer’’s goal, that next one was the big one and we got it, and then ‘Hags’ followed up and we kind of took off from there.
“We wanted to win that game. We just weren’t doing all the things we needed to for much of it, and the third period the ‘Pointer’ line took over.”
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored his first goal of the season just under four minutes into the game. It was the ninth scored by a bottom-six forward over the past nine games. Bellemare took a drop pass from Vladislav Namestnikov and wristed a shot from the top of the left circle.
Tarasov kept the Blue Jackets in the game early, stopping Kucherov’s wide-open snap shot from the right post, one of 11 saves Tarasov made in the first period. He finished with 25 on 28 shots.
“I think we maybe at times complicated it a little bit and we stayed in the perimeter,” Bellemare said. “And it doesn’t matter where they are in the standings, it’s a hard-working team. And if you’re not ready to go kind of in the mix in front of the net and do the work, then that’s how it’s going to look, I think.”
After Kirill Machenko’s wrist shot from above the left dot beat him gloveside just over three minutes into the second period, Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott (24 saves) stopped the final 15 shots he faced to win his seventh straight start.
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