TAMPA, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – St. Louis center Brayden Schenn scored the game winner at 4:01 of overtime as he fired a shot off the goal post which hit the back of Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s left blocker and found its way into the net as the Blues shaded the Lightning 1-0 at Amalie Arena.
“Seen the back checker coming and the goalie cut off the angle,” said Schenn, who scored his 10th goal of the season. “Didn’t really see a whole lot. Didn’t know if it was low glove or went through his body. Saw the puck trickle in and it was a big sigh of relief.”
The Blues came out strong in the first period in trying to send Tampa Bay a message as they peppered Vasilevskiy with 15 shots in the first period. The Lightning didn’t match the Blues’ energy early, but Vasilevskiy showed his usual range in the crease as he was able to deflect a shot and then reposition himself to the other side and make a play as well.
“We got better as the game went on and maybe a couple of old habits jumping in as maybe trying to score the perfect goal and we gave up fourteen attempts in the first period and it is really hard to win in this league when you do that,” noted Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
Vasilevskiy once again performed well enough to get the win, but had no goal support out of a Lightning offense that has struggled lately in averaging only two goals per game over the last four games, entering Thursday.
“I think we played much better in the third period as we directed the puck at the net,” explained Tampa Bay center Yanni Gourde, who was turned away at the net by Binnington early in the overtime period. “Their ‘D’ did a good job of boxing us out. It comes down to small details and we weren’t able to do anything with that.”
The Lightning penalty kill was on point once again as the unit shifted the momentum in the second period in erasing three penalties as it has killed 34 of 37 penalties in the last 12 contests.
“I think that was a big momentum changer,” commented Gourde. “Our PK stepped up. We got some scoring chances and a few looks. Good when the PK is rolling and you shut their offense down. It’s always a confidence booster when you step on the ice after that.”
The goalkeepers were at peak level all evening as Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy once again came up huge in covering for his team, which has had trouble finding the goal ever since a 6-3 rout of the San Jose Sharks in Tampa nearly two weeks ago.
“We are defending and the guys are playing hard,” explained Cooper, “They had a huge shot total, but not a huge scoring chance total. You are not going to score at the rate we have been scoring all year and sometimes you have to go through these trying times to see what will work.”
The success of Vasilevskiy should not get lost in the solidity of a Lightning offense that has been staggered of late. He was peppered in the crease as St. Louis threw 39 shots his way. Many times there were scoring opportunities in open ice or situations where he had to use his lateral skills to deflect two shots from both sides of his crease.
St. Louis has been resurgent since the beginning of the year and much of that success has been due to the insertion of young Jordan Binnington into the net. Binnington made his first career NHL start on January 7 and turned away 25 pucks as the Blues snuffed the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 as Binnington earned his first career shutout in his first career start.
Coming into Thursday’s win, Binnington has gone 7-1-1 with a 92.4 save percentage in allowing only 1.72 goals while picking up four of those seven wins in the last five games. The Blues have thus risen into playoff contention a 10-4-1 start to the new year.
“They made a pretty good push in the third and he came up big,” said Blues coach Craig Berube of Binnington. “He is a confident guy. Watching his mannerisms in there, he was pretty calm and cool.”
The Lightning lost back-to-back games for only the second time this season as they fell to Ottawa and Buffalo on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13.
Ken Cross is a sports contributor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org