Steven Stamkos took a big hit on the boards as the second period came to a close. While he skated off the ice in obvious pain, the Vancouver Canucks scored their final goal of the period, making the score 4-2 as both teams headed into their locker rooms for a well deserved break in the action. Seconds before, Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier had just scored for the Lightning, which brought them within one goal of the Canucks, closer than they had been throughout the second period. Going into the second period with a two goal deficit, they had fought and scratched their way into the opponents’ zone several times but had come up empty, thanks to the efforts of the talented Vancouver defense and especially because of the surprising (at least to Tampa Bay fans) heroics of Vancouver backup goalie Cory Schneider, whose first and second period of play was the kind of stuff that fills up ESPN hockey newsreels.
The first period had seen Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay’s stalwart hero of last year’s playoff series, let in a couple of goals early on, both off of screens, and the Lightning found themselves playing a difficult, if not spectacular game of catch up for the rest of the evening.
Spectacular best describes the caliber of both teams’ play as they banged each other around the newly tagged Tampa Bay Times Forum (formerly the St. Pete Times Forum) in what looked like a championship playoff game. But the real story is about how the Tampa Bay Lightning boys ALMOST pulled off a huge upset against a charged up Stanley Cup Championship runner up team with a goalie who was stopping everything the Lightning could dish out to him in the 1st period.
Roberto Luongo showed up for pre-game warm-ups, took some shots from his teammates, and then spent the rest of the evening as a spectator as his capable backup goalie provided the crowd with enough excitement and memories to last until the next time these two teams meet (hopefully in the playoffs, but not likely this year).
After the second period the Canucks fans, who matched the Lightning fans in both number and intensity, were probably ready to write off the chances for Tampa Bay to win this game. But there are three periods in the old Canadian rules of ice hockey. And boy oh boy, did Vinnie Lecavalier and the rest of the gang come out to play in the third! Roloson stymied the Canucks offense while Tampa Bay’s front line looked like the Lightning that was on their way to the Stanley Cup last year. And the fans were lovin’ it! On three different faceoffs in the 3rd period alone the referee had to wait for the crowd to lower its volume to a dull roar before he could drop the puck. The electricity from the crowd actually drowned out the loud rock music played for inspiration before crucial faceoffs. Such was the atmosphere at Tuesday night’s regular season game between the Northwest Conference’s #1 team and Southeast’s #4.
When Ryan Malone took a pass from Lightning front man Martin St. Louis and slammed it past Vancouver’s young goalie phenom Cory Schneider with only a minute left in regulation time, it brought the house down and tied the game 4-4, sending it into overtime, which produced more on-the-edge excitement but no more goals. This of course brought on a shootout. That meant that the two goalies, who had each put on one heckuva performance for their respective teams, would now have to decide singlehandedly which team would skate away with a victory on this special night when everyone had stepped their game up several notches into overdrive.
In the end, it was neither one of the goalies’ decisions, but instead a superb “spin-o-rama” move by the Canucks’ left wing Mason Raymond from Alberta, Canada that finally put an end to the contest. Result: Vancouver Canucks – 5, Tampa Bay Lightning – 4.
Be sure to keep checking back with the Orlando Hockey Examiner this week for more video and game pictures as they become available.