On Friday evening, a high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning team made its way to Bell MTS Place for a inter-conference battle with the Winnipeg Jets. The Bolts, who played Thursday evening in Minnesota, came into the game on an 11-2-0 tear in their last 13 contests. Despite playing off of little rest, they began the game in high gear, scoring the opening goal. The offence didn’t stop there, as the visitors ultimately blew the Jets away 7-1.
“It feels like the effort’s there, it feels like the mentality’s there, it feels like we’re connected on the ice,” said Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler postgame. “But with all that being said, at the end of the day, 7-1 at home, that’s not going to get the job done. There’s definitely some things to figure out.”
The first period featured 20 minutes of back-and-forth hockey, with the Lightning taking a 3-0 advantage into the middle stanza. Despite being a low-shooting frame, the visitors struck early and struck often, cashing in three times on just six shots, with Anthony Cirelli leading the way.
The 22-year-old centreman scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season in the period, while Nikita Kucherov added his 21st. Cirelli opened the scoring as he stepped into a one-timer from the slot on a setup play from Ondrej Palat.
Brayden Point then picked off a questionable Andrew Copp offensive zone pass, before finding Kucherov and Steven Stamkos alone up ice. The two combined for a pretty two-on-zero, beating Connor Hellebuyck just three minutes Cirelli’s opening strike.
Palat and Cirelli put up another tally with 52 seconds left in the period, as Cirelli drove hard past Mark Scheifele and tucked the puck around Hellebuyck, giving Tampa Bay three goals on its first six shots of the game. The Bolts finished the first period leading the Jets 7-5 in the shot department. Winnipeg’s best scoring chance came on a Kyle Connor shot that found the post from the high slot, midway through the frame.
The middle stanza provided more of the same, as Tampa Bay continued in its goal scoring ways, cashing in twice more before the second period horn sounded. After Kucherov added his second of the game 7:21 into the frame, Carter Verhaeghe put his sixth of the season past Hellebuyck on a perfectly placed wrist shot from the slot, ending Hellebuyck’s night after a dismal performance that saw the 26-year-old make just seven saves on 12 shots.
Backup Laurent Brossoit came into the game with 8:50 to play in the period; Winnipeg answered the bell just 34 seconds later. Mathieu Perreault picked off a Lightning defender before finding Jack Roslovic, who made up for an earlier miss, scoring his ninth of the season, finally bringing the Winnipeg crowd to its collective feet. The Lightning led the Jets 5-1 after 40 minutes, despite trailing 23-16 in shots.
Anthony Cirelli completed his first career hat trick, pulling the trigger midway through the third period, before Alex Killorn scored his 20th of the season, giving the Bolts a 7-1 lead with the point after a touchdown late in the period, capitalizing on a rebound following a Mitchell Stephens shot.
“At first I was going to shoot it and he (Laine) kind of got my stick a bit, and then I saw Johnny backdoor and I tried to feed it to him and it was kind of a lucky bounce,” Cirelli said. “It hit the D’s stick – I think – and it went through the legs. For sure a lucky bounce… I will definitely take it. You know, they don’t come around a lot in this league and it’s super hard. So I will take anything that I can get. Like I said, it was a lucky bounce to hit his stick and go in.”
Connor Hellebuyck turned aside seven of 12 Tampa Bay shots, before Laurent Brossoit stopped 12 of 14 shots. Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his 24th win of the season, stopping 30 pucks in the process.
Next up for Winnipeg is a three-game-in-four-day road trip through Chicago, Carolina and Columbus beginning Sunday and continuing Tuesday and Wednesday. Sunday and Wednesday’s games will be available on Sportsnet, while Tuesday’s contest will be aired on TSN. Puck drop is set for 6:00 PM central Sunday evening from the United Center.