Tonight’s game at Amalie Arena may have reminded some on a twist of an old Rodney Dangerfield joke. The classic about going to a boxing match and a hockey game breaking out. The twist in tonight’s game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs was those who went to this hockey game and saw a track meet break out.
Maybe it’s because so many of the players in this game were so young. How young you ask? Of their 18 skaters and one goalie, 12 of the Maple Leafs were born after Jaromir Jagr began his NHL career. The Lightning were right behind that with 11 of their 19 dressed players born post-Jagr.
The game was played at a breakneck pace. Perhaps because of the youth, it seemed like turnovers were on tap tonight. The giveaways led to several odd man rushes and an equal number of power play chances. Yet both young goalies more than held their own. In fact, Toronto goalie Antoine Bibeau made numerous highlight-worthy saves. Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy matched Bibeau’s performance save-for-save.
The speed of how this game was going to be played was evident from the opening puck drop. Both teams raced the moment they possessed the puck. The ping-pong-pace led to some decent scoring chances. Most of those on the Toronto side of the ledger.
After exchanging penalties in the first half of the first period, the Leafs killed off their second penalty at 13:41 of the initial frame. That must have built enough confidence in this youthful group that they scored one minute and five seconds after the successful kill.
Rookie and No. 1 Draft pick last summer, Auston Matthews, all of 19-years old, scored his 18th goal at 14:46 of the first. Finding a loose puck after a faceoff in the Lightning zone, Matthews wristed a shot through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole to open the scoring.
Jonathan Drouin hit the far post from the right dot late in the period. It seemed to be the only puck that beat Bibeau, who stood tall in net all night.
For those who thought the speed of the game would taper off in the second, especially in light of the fact that both teams played last night, it didn’t. Not only did both play but both games went into extra time. The Lightning beating the Canadiens in overtime and the Leafs won over the Panthers in a shootout. It would have made sense for both teams to be a bit fatigued — but for the youth.
A bit after the nine-minute mark of the middle frame, Tyler Bozak found himself all alone in front of the Lightning net after Vasilevskiy left himself a little out of position after leaving a juicy rebound. Bozak knocked in his seventh goal of the season to give Toronto a 2 – 0 lead.
In need of a response, the Lightning were led by their newest productive line, the BFD line. Jonathan Drouin entered the neutral zone with a pretty little pass to himself that gave him some space. Then Drouin dekes another Leaf and puts the puck on Brian Boyle’s stick on Toronto’s blueline.
Boyle slides up the left wall towards the young Bibeau. With defenders following Drouin, Boyle snaps a shot high stick side past Bibeau to put the Lightning on the board. The goal, Boyle’s came 12:12 into the period and it energized the sold out crowd who began to sense a comeback.
In the final minutes of the second, the game speed actually begins to pick up. At 17:38, Ondrej Palat led a forechecking smothering of the Leafs which led to a turnover. The loose puck was gobbled up by Palat and he shot it past Bibeau for his sixth goal of the year to tie the game at two.
The players settled down a bit in the final period. Only one penalty by either team was called and it was late in the period against Toronto. The normally productive Lightning power play had an opportunity to complete the comeback with a tripping call on Zach Hyman of the Leafs at 17:10.
In their fifth chance with the man advantage, the Lightning failed to score to ice the victory. This led to an overtime period with the game still tied at two.
It’s no secret that in today’s NHL, the 3-on-3 overtime rules create a speedier version of the regulation time. After both teams play last night and both went into overtime last night, finally a chance to see the game slow up even a little bit.
It was not to be, both teams seem to take it into overdrive. The speed was such that on a small window of a breakaway, Tampa’s Valtteri Filppula couldn’t put the brakes on fast enough and slammed into Bibeau and earned the goalie interference penalty at 2:01 of the extra time.
On the ensuing power play, the Leafs on their own fifth extra-man opportunity scored the game winner at 3:37 of the overtime. Nazeem Kadri pushed the puck past Vasilevskiy for his 13th of the season, after William Nylander put one on the net and that was the game.
Bibeau won his first NHL game and the kid deserves to savor this win. Vasilveskiy faced eight more shots than his counterpart and could take solace in earning the point for his team.
TOR-Auston Matthews (18) assisted by Zach Hyman
TOR-Tyler Bozak (7) assisted by James van Riemsdyk and Nikita Zaitsev
TB-Brian Boyle (9) assisted by Jonathan Drouin and Andrej Sustr
TB-Ondrej Palat (6) assisted by Nikita Kucherov
TOR-Nazeem Kadri (13) assisted by William Nylander and Auston Matthews
THW Three Stars
First: Auston Matthews (1 goal, 1 assist)
Second: Antoine Bibeau(25 saves, 1st NHL win)
Third: Andrei Vasilevskiy (32 saves)
What’s Up Next
Carolina Hurricane at Tampa Bay Lightning
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016
Amalie Arena – 7:00 p.m. EST
Broadcast channel – Fox Sports Sun