Thursday, 2 a.m.
Excuse me. But how, exactly, did the Tampa Bay Lightning win their latest game?
They didn't play very hard. They didn't play very well. They weren't particularly inspired. They got off only 16 shots, including two in the first period and three in the second.
In other words, it was ugly on homely on unsightly on zits on a warthog.
And the Bolts won despite themselves.
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“I don't think we can sit here and be really proud of how we played,” said Tyler Johnson, who scored a goal when the puck bounded off his heel. “We got the win, so that's good. But there is a lot of room for improvement there. Quite frankly, there are a lot of games we've lost that we should have won. I can't sit here and say for sure that we should have gotten those two points. Lucky for us we were ready to take them.”
So how did the Bolts win this? Well, they were playing Carolina, which is tied for last in the Eastern Conference, who was playing on a back-to-back night and was playing a backup goaltender. They won because Andrei Vasilevskiy played well in his second straight win. They won because Victor Hedman scored two goals. They won because Nikita Kucherov continued his torrid streak with a goal and two assists. They won because they were home.
Oh, yeah. And they won because they had to win. And by winning, they stayed within three points of the final wild-card spot.
“I don’t know how the mindset was of our team in the first period, but we were not focused or ready to play that game,” said Bolts' coach Jon Cooper. “I don’t know if it was because it was March 1st. I don’t know if there was a stress level going on and a relief level all in the same boat, but we got schooled in the first period. It was another game where Vasy had to come up huge for us just to keep it a one goal game. I think that was the difference for us was keeping it a one goal game.
“After that second and third, what were shots? 13-11 or something? 13-12? It was a pretty even game. Poor Pally missed a six by four on the back door. Erne hit a crossbar. We had some really good chances. Our shot total was low because I think we missed the net 23 times. That’s a large number. They got in lanes and blocked some shots and stuff like that, but I truly believe it’s one of those – I don’t know if paying it forward or whatever it’s called -- we’ve played a lot of games in the last month and a half where we felt we deserved a better fate and didn’t get it and tonight was probably one where maybe it was just reversed a little bit, but we got points. Carolina’s probably sitting there thinking the same thing. We deserved a little bit better fate than they received, but we will take it for sure.”
The Bolts were listless, but at least they were accurate. They scored on their second shot of the night, and in the third, they scored twice on three shots.
Then came the winner, when Hedman put the game away on a pass from Kucherov.
“Well, I think sluggish is probably a little understatement,” Hedman said. “I think, especially our first period, was unacceptable. We’ll take these two points. In a week or so, you look back at it and it’s two points in the bank. Obviously the performance is something we’ve got to improve on, but two points is two points. At this time of the year, you take them any way.”
Goalie Andre Vasilevskiy won his second game in a row since becoming the No. 1 goalie, stopping 28 of 31 shots. The Bolts have now had points in nine of 10 games.
Tampa Bay now plays a road trip against Pittsburgh on Friday and Buffalo on Saturday.