NHL Game Night: 12-18-18 Lightning at Canucks

Lightning prevail in late night fight.

TB-5
VAN-2

Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed 2 goals on 38 shots. And, although the final score looks comfortable, he was called on to make some key stops when the game narrowed to 3-2 in the Third Period to preserve the victory including a monumental breakaway opportunity.

First Period
8:40 TB Kucherov (15), (Point)
9:17 VAN Motte (5), (Stecher, Virtanen)
11:07 TB Paquette (8), (Martel, Erne)

Second Period
8:37 TB Erne (4), (Paquette, Girardi)

Third Period
5:46 VAN Tanev (2), (Roussel)
17:22 TB Stamkos (17), (Johnson, Hedman)
18:17 TB Palat (3), (Kucherov, Stralman)

Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov were the game's first and third stars.

Obviously this was a game that got out of control in the nastiness department. Canucks fans are going to point to Danick Martel's hit on Stecher as the flashpoint of the game, but the reality is Roussel started the snowball down the hill by running Kucherov after Nikita scored a goal. From there we had the ugliness of Stecher getting laid out on a hit by Martel and Martel getting jumped by two Canucks who held him while he was bloodied by a Gudbranson sucker punch. This was all sandwiched between a hockey game where the Lightning failed to put the Canucks away with multiple unsuccessful power play opportunities to establish a 3-goal advantage and quell any Vancouver uprising for good. They eventually got the win, but I'd have preferred they piled the dirt on Vancouver's grave much sooner.

Regarding the Martel hit, I'm going to stipulate ahead of time it was a borderline play. I haven't seen an angle of the hit from the front so I'm not sure if when Martel raised his arm and elbow he did or didn't catch Stecher's head on the follow-through. So, there may yet be discipline for Martel. With that said, the Vancouver reaction to the play was laughably overwrought. To hear them tell it, 5'9" Danick Martel is some kind of cross between Tom Wilson, Ronnie Lott, and John Wilkes Booth. The exaggeration of the play and the casting of Martel as a headhunting assassin who went straight in to try to decapitate Stecher is a work of pure fiction. First, the initial contact was shoulder to shoulder. Any claim Martel was deliberately trying to land a headshot with intent to injure simply doesn't jibe with reality. Indeed, if you review the tape, Martel makes the hit (which he also claimed he felt was a clean, shoulder-to-shoulder hit) he immediately starts digging at the puck in Stecher's skates to retrieve the puck. Not the act of a headhunting assassin admiring their handywork through the scope of the rifle. Just sayin'. Second, yes Martel hits Stecher a fraction of a second before the puck arrives at Stecher's feet. In slow motion. So, in reality it's a bang-bang play where, in real time, the puck arrived at pretty much the exact moment of the contact. In that regard, I think you can even make a really strong argument that the interference call that was given to Martel wasn't correct. So then, the third element is Martel's follow through, which I'll stipulate to you I haven't seen clearly shown one way or the other to have contacted Stecher's head or not. You put that all together, and I think you can make another strong argument that had Stecher not been concussed (and, sadly, players can get concussed on completely legal shoulder-to-shoulder hits, too) there wouldn't have been any minor penalty issued in the game at all, let alone something to soothe the Canucks' plaintiff cries for a five-minute major for a phantom, premeditated head shot. It's a shame Stecher got hurt. I don't wish that upon any player (not even Brad Marchand). But not every hit that leads to a concussion is automatically a premeditated head shot with intent to injure. Sometimes, as in this case, a hard hockey play can lead to a guy getting his bell rung. It's the nature of the beast. Just is. And if Stecher had popped right back up, we would've been talking about Martel issuing a hard hit in a chippy game and turned the page about a minute after it happened.

And if you're going to try to crucify Jon Cooper for fist-bumping his player for standing up for himself after having gotten sucker-punched for issuing a hard hit in a chippy game, then I think that's a little overwrought too. I can only assume the run on fainting couches at local Vancouver furniture shops was pretty epic this morning.

Danick Martel had a helper and was +2 with 4 penalty minutes, 1 shot, and 2 hits in 6:57. Very impactful effort for a guy who was a surprise to dress after Callahan got nicked up. Beautiful spinning behind the back assist on Paquette's goal and, unless I see different evidence that what I've been shown, answered the bell with some physical play in a chippy game, which is no small thing for a 5'9" waterbug. I just hope the league office actually reviews the video evidence when looking at the matter and doesn't decide, "Here's a borderline NHL'er and we can really make an example out of him," without reviewing the facts fully.

Anthony Cirelli was 50% on 12 draws in 15:22.

Adam Erne had a goal and an assist and was +1 with 1 shot, 2 hits, and 1 blocked shot in 9:55. Nice tip on his goal and the Canucks did not have the depth to keep up with Tampa Bay's fourth line all night.

Erik Cernak was -1 with 2 shots, 5 hits, and 3 blocked shots in 19:03, spelling Coburn for a night.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.