Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

TAMPA — Any chance the NHL can reconsider this whole All-Star break business?

Just when the Lightning have found their groove and worked themselves back into playoff contention, they begin an ill-timed 10-day break.

At least the Lightning are heading into their mini-vacation with plenty of positive vibes after beating New Jersey 6-3 Saturday night at Amalie Arena. The win was Tampa Bay’s eighth in the last nine games.

“Jersey is kind of in the same spot we’re at. We’re all battling to get ourselves in (the postseason),” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said before the game. “You look at games like New Jersey, Philly, Detroit, all games that we’ve played here in the last few weeks. What’s the cliché, those are four-point games? That’s what they are, and so these are big ones for us.”

Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel both converted Victor Hedman shots into goals in the second period as the Lightning won their seventh consecutive home game. After a mostly uneventful first period, Tampa Bay completely dominated the next 20 minutes with a 19-4 advantage in shots on goal.

The Lightning began the scoring 1:09 into the second period when Hedman launched a shot from near the blue line and Paul, standing directly in front of the net, redirected it past goaltender Vitek Vanecek. The assist was Hedman’s 700th NHL point.

Just over 10 minutes later, Paul kept a play alive after a Hedman wrist shot. Paul pushed the puck back to Hedman, who took another shot three seconds later that was blocked by a defenseman. Hagel backhanded the rebound, which was blocked, and then sent the next rebound into the back of the net.

The Devils made a push in the third period with a pair of goals, including one from longtime Lightning star Ondrej Palat, but a Steven Stamkos goal in between kept Tampa Bay on top, 3-2. The Lightning scored three more times, including two empty-net goals, to pull away late.

“There are teams that (are) on losing streaks and they’re like, ‘Thank goodness for the break,’” Cooper said. “And teams on winning streaks? In the end, everybody gets a break and so, for me, regardless of how you’re playing going into it, I’m a big advocate of getting away from the game. It’s a grind.”

The Lightning looked solid, but unspectacular in the first period. They did not allow a shot on goal through the game’s first 10 minutes but also did not generate many high-danger chances themselves. The only penalty arrived late in the period against New Jersey, but the Lightning power play got off only one shot on goal.

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