October 24 – Day 18 – Rematch

Last night’s game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets ended poorly for the home crowd as the Bolts scored only half a minute into overtime to win the game 4-3.

Assisted by Tyler Johnson, Braydon Coburn gave Tampa Bay a first period lead at the 12:17 mark, but Winnipeg managed to level the score 4:11 later with a Nikolaj Ehlers goal, assisted by Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Pereault.  The one-all score held into the intermission.

Seven minutes into the second, the Lightning struck their second goal via Cedric Paquette, assisted by Erik Condra and Victor Hedman.  The Jets again held serve, scoring only 3:36 later when Adam Lowry and Alexander Burmistrov assisted Drew Stafford to his third goal of the season.  Cue Lightning service game, as it only took 21 seconds before the Bolts regained their lead.  Assisted by Paquette and Hedman, Vladislav Namestnikov fired Tampa Bay‘s third goal of the game past Ondrej Pavelec.  The 3-2 lead held into the second intermission.

A little less scoring action in the third period, but it favored the loyal Manitobans.  Only 1:17 into the final period, Blake Wheeler scored the third game-tying goal for the Jets, setting the score at three-all.  Neither side was able to break through their opposition, so the game moved to 3-on-3 overtime.

Ondrej Palat wasted little time in ending the game for the Lightning.  At the 36 second mark, Steven Stamkos and Hedman assisted him to his second goal of the season, this one his first game-winner of the year.

The Bolts‘ Ben Bishop (ooh, alliteration!) made 33 of 36 saves (91.7%) last night for the win, while Pavelec took the loss by saving only 27 of 31 (87.1%) Lightning shots.

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 9-5-3 in favor of the home team, who leads the roadies by five points.

Tonight is by far the busiest day we’ve had this week, with a total of a dozen games being played.  It’s like it’s a Saturday or something.  The action gets an early start this evening, as Anaheim and Minnesota are dropping the puck at 6 p.m. eastern at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.  Beginning at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern are four games (New Jersey at Buffalo, Toronto at Montréal [CBC and TVAS], Arizona at Ottawa and the New York Rangers at Philadelphia).  At 8 p.m. eastern, three more games get started (the New York Islanders at St. Louis, Pittsburgh at Nashville and Florida at Dallas), followed half an hour by Tampa Bay at Chicago (NHL Network and SN1), the first of two Stanley Cup Finals rematches this season.  At 9 p.m. eastern, Torts gets another shot at getting the first win for his new team when Columbus visits Colorado, followed an hour later by Detroit at Vancouver (CBC).  Finally, Carolina and San Jose drop the final opening puck of the night in The Tank at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

While there are two matchups that are divisional rivalries (Toronto at Montréal and the Rangers at Philadelphia) and four games between two teams that are currently qualifying for the playoffs (Coyotes at SenatorsRangers at Flyers, Islanders at Blues and Panthers at Stars), following Tampa Bay from the MTS Centre to the United Center for the rematch between the Bolts and Hawks is absolutely too good to miss tonight.

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We all know that last year’s Chicago team beat last year’s Tampa Bay team in six games to take the Cup, but a lot has changed between June 15 and October 24.

Beginning with the reigning champions, it was well documented during the off-season that the Hawks would have to make some major adjustments to get under the salary cap.  The squad traded away nine players, including Antti Raanta, Brandon Saad,  and Patrick Sharp and didn’t resign Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette.  They also lost Daniel Carcillo and Kimmo Timonen to retirement.

On the other side of the ice is a team that remained fairly consistent from last season.  The Bolts did not trade away any players this offseason, and only picked up one main addition during free agency: Condra.

Taking both of those factors into account, this season has slightly favored the 5-2-1 Lightning over the 4-3-0 Blackhawks.  Currently, Tampa Bay sits second in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference compared to Chicago‘s sixth position in the Western Conference that fails to qualify them for the playoffs due to their deep division.

Some players to keep an eye on in this game include Chicago‘s Patrick Kane (10 points [tied for second in the league] and five goals [tied for third in the league]) & Artemi Panarin (six assists [tied for fifth in the league]) and Tampa Bay‘s Ben Bishop (four wins [tied for fourth in the league]) & Anton Stralman (+6 Corsi rating [tied for sixth in the league]).

Although the United Center will be rowdy tonight, I believe that the Lightning are capable of pulling off the upset.  Bishop will have a few days of rest, and the rest of the team will be looking for revenge against the team that defeated them.

Should be an excellent game.