Defensemen lead Bolts to their 50th win

by Gary Shelton on March 3, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

Erik Cernak scored his third goal of the year./STEVEN MUNCIE

Sunday, 4 a.m.

At this stage of the journey, the Tampa Bay Lightning hardly needs more reminders of how good this regular-season is.

On the other hand, did everyone see that signpost as it whizzed past?

The Lightning, the best team is the appetizer part of the NHL's season, added one more achievement Saturday night when it won its 50th game -- in only 66 games -- of the season in a  5-1 victory. It was only the third time the Bolts had won 50 games or more, together with last season (54) and the 2014-15 (50).

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It was another bounce-back win for Tampa Bay, which has lost two games in a row only twice this season.

This time, it was the defense of the Lightning that led the victory. The defensemen of the team scored four goals -- Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev --  and had five assists on the night. The nine points tied a franchise record.

“Last game, against Boston, we didn’t play well defensively," said Eric Cernak. "We even had a lot of grade-A chances. We were talking about it after the game, in meetings, and tonight we played much better defensively. We didn’t give a lot of turnovers, we played our game and that’s what we have to do all the time.”

It isn't often that a defense carries the scoring load for a hockey team. But against the Senators, the offensive players might as well have moved out of the way.

“It’s a good sign, first and foremost, that we’re not spending a lot of time in our zone," McDonagh said. "We’re fresh within our shift. We talked about our transition game and relieving pressure in the offensive zone. We got to get involved and get up in the play. Our forwards have a ton of skill and vision to find us and put us in positions to get the puck towards the net. We’re fortunate that a few of them went in tonight.”

Said Cooper: "It’s good when you get the scoring on the back end. I liked the way we were moving the puck around, but there was big time shooting mentality. Guys going back door and putting it in, it was good to see. I like that mentality, which we didn’t have near as much of a couple nights ago.”

Victor Hedman gave credit to the offensive forwards.

“It shows the forwards obviously are doing a good job of getting us involved offensively, and we’re getting shots through," Hedman said. "Guys are roaming around in the offensive zone, and I think my goal is a perfect example of when you get moving in the O-zone that can create confusion.”

Winning 50 was a nice achievement, Hedman said.

“We want to win as many games as we can," Hedman said. "And obviously, it’s big for us to bounce back after that game in Boston. Big game for us at home again and playing for our fans. We just wanted to make sure we came out hard, and Ottawa played real good, especially in the first period. Vasy made some big saves for us to keep us ahead going into the second. I think in the second period we played a lot better; then in the third it was a good 20 minutes for us.”

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won his 30th game of the season, and his ninth in a row, by stopping 36 of 37 shots.

The offensive star of the night was -- guess who? -- Nikita Kucherov, who is now up to 106 points on the season.

The Lightning is home against Winnipeg Tuesday night. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7:30 p.m.


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