Lightning strike Blue Jackets with 4-goal second period
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The best team in the NHL during the first three months of the season closed out 2017 with one of the best months in team history.
The Tampa Bay Lightning capped a December to remember with a 5-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night at Nationwide Arena, ending the calendar year with 11 wins in their last 13 games.
The Lightning (28-8-2) are happy entering the new year with the most wins (28) and points (58) in the NHL.
“We missed the playoffs last year and to be in the position we are right now definitely there’s a lot of confidence,” Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov said. “We don’t look at the standings. We just play every game.”
After a scoreless first period during which the Lightning managed just five shots on goal, they unleashed a barrage led by Tyler Johnson that resulted in four goals in less than nine minutes at the start of the second period.
Johnson began the scoring with two goals 3 1/2 minutes apart early in the take-charge second period, the 100th and 101st of his career. Kucherov followed with his NHL-leading 25th of the season and Cory Conacher with his third.
Steven Stamkos added his 17th goal of the season in the third period.
The Lightning recognize their talent up and down the lineup, but they admit they’re surprised with how well the first part of the season has gone.
“It’s tough to say we envisioned that,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, we have so much faith in this group, in this team. We’re think we’re one of the best teams if not the best in the league and we want to prove that.”
Kucherov is one of the Lightning’s dynamic playmakers. He added an assist to his goal, boosting his league-best point total to 55.
Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev chipped in with two assists each.
Johnson continued a torrid month with a point in his 12th consecutive game. He finished December with eight goals and a career-high 18 points, topping his previous best of 17 points in December 2014.
“There’s no doubt about it. We have a lot of guys who can make plays,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “Tonight, we showed up for 40 minutes and we really took it to them.”
The first 20 minutes were a different story. The Lightning managed just five shots compared with the Blue Jackets’ 13 and Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper let his players know during the intermission that he wasn’t pleased with the effort.
“I flipped, that’s basically what happened,” Cooper said. “We had five shots. You’re never going to win like that. It’s something we’ve really been harping on the guys. It came to a little bit of a blow after the first.
“But you’ve got to give the guys a ton of credit. They came out and they executed. We got one, we got two, and we tried to break their will in the second. If we wanted a chance to win this hockey game, we had to change our game and we did that.”
Tampa Bay shifted into another gear after a scoreless opening period, outshooting the Blue Jackets 23-6 in the second while bouncing back from a 5-3 home loss on Friday to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Johnson’s first goal came 1:22 into the second period and his second at 4:49 on a one-timer off a pass from Point in front of Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.
Kucherov made it 3-0 at 7:53 of the second period and Conacher scored the final goal of the period past a screened Korpisalo at 8:45.
Stamkos scored the only goal in the third period with assists going to Hedman, his 25th of the season, and Kucherov, his 31st.
“They smelled blood, to be honest with you,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “We didn’t do anything right in those 10-12 minutes (of the second period). We got it handed to us.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy posted his league-leading 25th victory and shut out the Blue Jackets for the second time this season. He finished with 21 saves in his league-leading fifth shutout this season.
“I truly believe he’s the best goalie in the world right now,” Johnson said.
The injury-plagued Blue Jackets (22-15-3) are headed in the opposite direction. They lost for the fourth time in five games and sixth time in the last eight.
“We’re just going to go about our business,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “It’s not going to be throw our hands up in the air, and kick and scream and whine. We’ve just got to stay together as a team.
“We’re just going to try to work it out. That’s all we can do. It’s a humbling league. No one is going to feel sorry for you. You just have to go to work.”
Korpisalo, a surprise starter for the Blue Jackets, stopped 30 of 35 shots and wasn’t challenged in the first period. But the next 20 minutes were much different.
“We just lost ourselves,” Tortorella said.
NOTES: The Lightning swept the three-game season series. ... The Lightning recalled G Louis Domingue from Syracuse of the American Hockey League. Domingue, 25, is 9-4-0 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .911 save percentage for the Crunch this season. He also has played in seven NHL games with the Coyotes this season and is 0-6-0 with a 4.33 GAA and .856 save percentage. ... Lightning backup G Peter Budaj sustained a left leg injury during a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday. He was placed on injured reserve a day later. ... Blue Jackets F Boone Jenner played in his 300th NHL game. ... G Sergei Bobrovsky was out of the Blue Jackets’ lineup after going 4-6-2 in his last 12 games.