The Tampa Bay Lightning fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 to end a two-game home stand on Friday.
It was a tough loss for a Lightning team that leaves on Saturday to begin a crucial 13-day road trip that will see them play six games and likely define the course of their season in the process. At 20-20-4 and six points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Lightning now have little margin for error.
The evening began with a moving tribute to the team’s former captain Martin St. Louis, who became the first player in Lightning history to have his jersey number retired. With an elaborate on-ice setup that included marquees with his No. 26 illuminated on them and clad with the awards he won throughout his career — the Art Ross, Hart, Lady Byng and Lester B. Pearson — the ceremony began. Joined by his wife and three kids at center ice and with current and former members of the team’s front office, former Lightning teammates and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the team began a more than hour-long ceremony to honor St. Louis.
Fans erupted as Dave Andreychuk carried the Stanley Cup towards center ice just as the ceremony got underway — in an ode to the one and only Stanley Cup in franchise history that him and St. Louis helped the team to in 2004. After a series of speakers reflected on St. Louis’ career on and off the ice, current captain Steven Stamkos introduced St. Louis after saying his former teammate “was, still is and forever will be the heart and soul of the franchise” as the crowd exploded in cheers.
Current members of the Lightning were sitting on their respective bench, clad in original Lightning jerseys with St. Louis’ No. 26 on the back, while members of the Blue Jackets sat on the bench as a showing of respect to him.
There perhaps wasn’t a dry eye in Amalie Arena as St. Louis spoke about his late mother, who passed away suddenly during the 2015 playoffs.
“There’s one person not here tonight who I wish could be here more than anything — my mom,” St. Louis said as he fought back tears. “I know she is here with us tonight. She always said, ‘Show them, Marty. Show them.’ Well, mom, I think I did.”
After the close of an emotional ceremony, the game got underway and the Lightning seemingly used it as motivation to put together what was possibly the most complete period of the entire season, despite finding the back of the net just once in the first 20 minutes. The Blue Jackets, however, were able to put together a strong middle frame and tied the game as the teams went to the second intermission. Columbus capitalized on an early power play opportunity in the third period as Nick Foligno potted the eventual game winner. The Lightning were unable to score on a late one of their own before the Blue Jackets an empty net goal to earn two points.
Let’s take a closer look at how things played out on Friday:
The Lightning got off to one of the strongest starts of the season, outshooting the Blue Jackets by a 19-6 margin in the first period.
Korpisalo, who received the late call in goal for the Blue Jackets just before game time, was forced to make save after save as the Lightning moved the puck around well and created scoring opportunities, often keeping sustained pressure in the offensive zone for extended periods.
The Lightning struck first when Ondrej Palat carried the puck into the offensive zone and made a short pass to Valtteri Filppula who backhanded pass from just below the top of the right circle to Jonathan Drouin who was parked to the left of the Blue Jackets net. Drouin slid the puck past Korpisalo for his 13th goal of the season at 16:18 of the period.
The middle frame was a bit of a different story, as the Blue Jackets took control early in the period and outshot the Lightning 16-7 and controlled the play. Vasilevskiy came up big for the Lightning as the Blue Jackets peppered him with shots, but with less than four minutes remaining, an unlucky bounce for the Lightning ultimately resulted in a tie game.
Columbus defenseman David Savard fired a wrist shot towards the net from the top of the left circle. The puck hit the back of Braydon Coburn’s skate and bounced up in the air and towards Vasilevskiy and into the crease. Josh Anderson was standing there being guarded by Nikita Nesterov and as the puck landed, he immediately tapped it past Vasilevskiy and into the net to knot the game at one goal a piece.
As the middle frame came to a close, the teams had dominated a period each and the Lightning held a slight advantage in shots, 26-22.
Tyler Johnson was called for holding early in the final period, giving the Blue Jackets their third power play of the evening. The Lightning were unable to hold of the league’s top-ranked unit with the man advantage as Foligno was parked out front of the Lightning crease and grabbed a loose puck on a rebound, sliding it around Vasilevskiy and into the net for his 15th goal of the season at 4:29 of the period.
After the Lightning penalty killing unit was able to hold off the Blue Jackets after being called for too many men on the ice at just past the midway point of the period, they got one final opportunity with the man advantage when Jack Johnson was taken off for slashing with 3:04 left to play.
During the ensuing power play, the Lightning were able to muster any good scoring chances and with Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra attacker, Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner fired a puck from his own end into the empty net with just more than a minute remaining to make it a two-goal game and secure the win.
TBL – Jonathan Drouin (13) assisted by Valtteri Filppula and Ondrej Palat
CBJ – Josh Anderson (10) assisted by David Savard
CBJ – Nick Foligno (15) assisted by Zach Werenski and Alexander Wennberg (PP)
CBJ – Boone Jenner (7) unassisted (ENG)
THW Three Stars
First: Nick Foligno (one goal)
Second: Joonas Korpisalo (31 saves, .969 save percentage)
Third: Jonathan Drouin (one goal)
What’s Up Next
Tampa Bay Lightning at Los Angeles Kings
Monday, Jan. 16, 2016
Staples Center – 4:00 P.M. EST
Broadcast Channels – Fox Sports Sun, SN, FS-W
Columbus Blue Jackets at Florida Panthers
Friday, Jan. 13, 2016
BB&T Center – 7:00 P.M. EST
Broadcast Channels – FS-F, FS-O