Weary Lightning snap losing streak with win over Canucks

Hockey players are creatures of habit. They rely on routine. But maybe being thrown for a loop was what the Lightning needed to change their fortunes.

They’d already had their obstacles on the ice during their six-game road trip — losing three straight regulation games for the first time since the end of last regular season — and then their travel plans hit a snag.

Following their loss to the Oilers Saturday night, the Lightning’s flight to Vancouver was grounded because of a mechanical issue, forcing the team to stay in Edmonton overnight and fly into Vancouver the day of the game. The team didn’t get to its hotel Sunday until 3 p.m. PST, just four hours before puck drop.

“It was a quick nap, and then here we are,” forward Alex Killorn said. “No wasted time, kind of nice. … I think sometimes it’s nice to get thrown a wrench. You kind of just have to play hockey.”

Come game time, the Lightning had their best start in 2-1/2 weeks, running out to a quick two-goal lead and surviving a Canucks charge for a 2-1 win at Rogers Arena.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had lost three of his previous four starts, made 35 saves, including 14 in a second period that saw the Canucks begin to tilt the ice after being outshot 10-1 to open the game.

The Vancouver Canucks' Brock Boeser (6) cannot get his stick on the puck in front of Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, left, as Tampa Bay's Ryan McDonagh (27) defends during the second period.
The Vancouver Canucks’ Brock Boeser (6) cannot get his stick on the puck in front of Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, left, as Tampa Bay’s Ryan McDonagh (27) defends during the second period. [ DARRYL DYCK | AP ]

The six-game road trip that’s taken the Lightning through Western Canada has been a struggle, but they never wavered in their belief that they’d adjust and get out of their funk, and they even embraced their travel issues.

“You need a plane to be healthy to fly it, so it wasn’t,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We got some sleep in Edmonton, and it was back to the preseason or how I did in Sweden when I was playing there. It was busing or flying the day of the game, but it’s been awhile. But the guys played play well. The start was huge for us, and then Vasy made some big saves for us.”

Coach Jon Cooper made wholesale changes along his forward lines, and his team responded well. It pressured the net from the start, scoring two goals in the first 5:06.

Hedman put the Lightning up early, jumping up in the play and taking a backhand feed from Pat Maroon from below the goal line and beating Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko near side with a wrister 3:26 into the game.

Hedman jumped into Maroon’s arms, almost in relief, to celebrate the Lightning’s first, first-period lead in 10 games — since Maroon scored first in a home win over Edmonton on March 23. The Lightning are 23-1-4 when they score first this season.

Ross Colton put Tampa Bay up 2-0 just over a minute and a half later, scoring from the slot after Corey Perry forced a turnover on the forecheck.

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The Lightning's Ross Colton (79) celebrates his goal against Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) during the first period.
The Lightning’s Ross Colton (79) celebrates his goal against Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) during the first period. [ DARRYL DYCK | AP ]

Former Lightning forward J.T. Miller had a scoring chance when he beat Hedman across the front of the net on the rush, but Vasilevskiy stopped Miller’s shot with a right pad save that closed off the far post.

Miller cut Tampa Bay’s lead to one just under six minutes into the third period. Nikita Kucherov’s stretch pass sprung Killorn for a breakaway, but after Killorn shot wide, Miller scored seconds later at the other end following a length-of-the-ice pass and late no-icing call that the Lightning bench didn’t like.

The Lightning shut down the Canucks over the final six minutes, utilizing the forecheck to limit their zone time and delay Vancouver pulling Demko for an extra attacker.

The Lightning (38-15-6) improved to 7-0-1 on the second half of back-to-backs, earning their latest win after getting into town hours before game time as they continue a stretch of 11 games in 11 cities.

“Was it ideal what happened last night?” Cooper said. “No, but in the end, it was better we found out when we’re on the ground than up in the air. When you play as many games as we do, and when you travel as much as we do, things are going to happen like that. I think our guys handled it really well.

“I think that’s part of being a pro. You have to be able to adapt to situations. Everything’s not going to be exactly the same as it always is. So you come through these (thinking), how can you mentally focus for the game? and the guys in general kept their focus. It was great to see.”

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By Harriet