The Tampa Bay Lightning (31-14-2) defeated their division rival Columbus Blue Jackets (15-25-9) 3-1 on Thursday evening. The low-scoring affair was Tampa’s fourth win against Columbus this year moving the Lightning ahead in the season series 4-3.
Columbus struck first when defenseman Seth Jones scored on a power play in the 10th minute of the first period. After that, it was all Tampa Bay.
Center Blake Coleman scored his first of two goals on the night when he netted a goal on a steal-and-score to even the game with 5:09 remaining in the second period. The late second period goal knotted the game up one goal a-piece entering the final period.
Then, Ondrej Palat put Tampa Bay up for good scoring on an assist from Yanni Gourde with just under 12 minutes remaining in the contest. With under a minute left to go, Blake Coleman scored his second goal of the night on an open net to put the Lightning up 3-1. Coleman’s last-minute goal could prove to be decisive as the score moved the Lighting just one point behind the Florida Panthers for second place in the division.
Goal keepers for both sides played stout defense in the contest. Curtis McElhinney was one shot shy from perfect stopping 24 of 25 shots that came his way. Columbus’s Elvis Merzlikins was equally impressive allowing just 25 of 27 shots that came his way to hit back net.
The two teams face each other for the eighth and final time this season on Sunday.
Lightning Playoff Push
The defending-champion Lightning currently sit at third place in the NHL Central Division standings, arguably the most competitive division in hockey this season. Tampa (64 points) currently resides behind the first place Carolina Hurricanes (31-10-5, 67 points) and in-state foe Florida Panthers (30-13-5, 65 points).
If Tampa hopes to pass two of the hottest teams in the league and move up or to the top of the division, they’ll have to play more consistently over the final nine games. Recently, the Lightning have been off-and-on going 5-5 over their last 10 games.