The Senators mostly held tight with the league’s best, but as I’m sure you know, hanging tight with the Lightning is as good as giving up against them. As has been true for most of the year, they are just too skilled to lose on a night where the stats are close. Their skill was on full display, and in the end, that ended up sinking the Sens. Yanni Gourde had a pair of goals, while Nikita Kucherov put up three assists.
The first period was a relatively low-key affair. The final shot count favoured Ottawa 11-5, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the Sens had that many shots. It felt like mostly a neutral zone affair, but the Lightning did seem back on their heels a bit. I don’t know if it’s that they were missing their top defenceman (Victor Hedman), or that they’re the guaranteed President’s Trophy winners, but they just seemed content to play the game at half speed. Tampa actually opened the scoring on a nice passing play — which would be a theme of the evening — and a bit of hustle. Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point were able to keep the puck alive behind the Sens’ net, and then three quick passes gave Gourde a tap-in past Craig Anderson.
But with just over a minute left in the first, Brady Tkachuk salvaged the period for the Sens. He skated into the zone, and on a play on which 90% of Sens would make the pass, he looked off the pass and fired it five-hole through Andrei Vasilevskiy. The rest of the game I felt like the Sens tried to force one more pass, but at least right there Tkachuk made a great decision.
The second still opened up well for the Sens. Seven minutes into the period, the Bolts had yet to record a shot on net, while the Sens had three. But then things started to fray a bit. First, Mikhail Sergachev got a shot through from the point through a Gourde screen that Anderson didn’t see so it beat him cleanly. Then Brian Gibbons took an unnecessary tripping penalty, and the Lightning started to wake up. Their passing on that powerplay was unreal, and showed me just how much skill they have. It felt like they made about 40 uninterrupted passes in the offensive zone to set up their chance. Sergachev passed it behind the back to Nikita Kucherov, who passed it cross-ice to Stamkos, who passed it to Point in front who rang it hard off the post. Anderson was moving laterally and wouldn’t have got near the save, but luckily for him, the shot was just off the mark.
Following that, more offensive zone pressure got the Bolts on the board again. Unable to clear the puck, the Sens were back on their heels. Point’s original shot from the slot was blocked, but Gourde got the rebound from behind the net, backhanded it to Point, and he quickly put up between Andy’s pads. It was another high, high skill play by a great team. And just after that, Colin White got called for a really soft penalty, and Tampa’s fast-passing powerplay went to work. The Sens looked like they’d decided to change strategies though, because they got super aggressive and decided to change odd-man chances. After racing in shorthanded and getting a great chance, they gave Tampa a chance the other way. The back-and-forth killed the penalty and most of the rest of the period. In particular, Gibbons had a shot at a partial breakaway, but instead of going for it, he decided to ease up and wait for the trailer, giving Jan Rutta the chance to close him down completely. That ended the period, with the Bolts having got 10 of the final 11 shots the period.
Things got chippy in the third. It started with Brady Tkachuk (who else?) getting in the face of several players in the Lightning crease, leading several to grab him while he made his, “Who, me?” face. Then Zack Smith and Cameron Gaunce got into some shoving after a whistle and then fought, with Gaunce getting an extra two for the slash that led to the fight. On that powerplay, Max Veronneau scored one of the nicest goals I’ve seen for the Sens in a while. Vasilevskiy gave Veronneau about a puck’s-width of room, and Veronneau picked the exact spot.
But like so much of the game, a little bit of good news turned into bad for the Sens. Not even a minute later, Gourde found himself on a breakaway and Anderson sort of gloved the puck, but it trickled through and into the net. Andy looked upset on the goal, as if he knew it had been the first goal on which he had a chance to stop it, even though it had been a breakaway. Then Ottawa got a great chance, but to set it up Tkachuk got a little overzealous with his pick and took a penalty. Then, only 30 seconds into that powerplay, Kucherov got hit with a makeup call for a much weaker pick, setting up 1:30 of 4-on-4 where the Sens were heftily outplayed. Then Braydon Coburn took a slashing call, and Jon Cooper was not impressed. The Sens did their best impression of the Bolts’ powerplay, trying to get some quick puck movement, but they couldn’t quite get the great chance they needed.
With three minutes left in the game, Steven Stamkos sealed the deal for the Lightning. Racing in with Mathieu Joseph, he tucked in an easy goal, and the Sens looked like they weren’t going to score a goal per minute to win the game. Time ran out, and the Sens lost 5-2 but probably didn’t deserve to lose that badly.
- We saw the best and worst of Brady Tkachuk tonight. At his best, he scored a smart goal, created chances, and got under the opponent’s skin. At his worst, he took a dumb penalty because he got too excited at a chance to create space. Still, setting a new franchise record for goals by a teenager is worth celebrating.
- We also saw the best and worst of Christian Wolanin tonight. At his best, he was quarterbacking the powerplay, keeping the puck in and finding the open man. At his worst, he made a couple defensive miscues, forcing his partner (Cody Ceci for most of the night) into recovery mode.
- Veronneau’s goal was a thing of beauty. I was expecting next to nothing from him, à la Matt O’Connor, but he’s definitely talented. I think he has a real shot to make the big club next year.
- Nikita Kucherov was on fire tonight with three assists. That puts him at 125 points on the season, just two short of Alexander Mogilny’s record for single-season points by a Russian. I’ve been excited for Kucherov ever since his sophomore season when he put up 65 points as an undersized, relatively unheralded Russian. I’m excited to see how dominant he’s become, even if it’s for a division rival.