TAMPA, FLA. • A goaltenders’ duel in the first period turned into the Oskar Sundqvist show in the second. and then morphed into yet another nail-biter in the third period, and ultimately into yet another Blues’ victory.
It was 4-3 Blues on Wednesday at Amalie Arena, and once again goalie Jordan Binnington proved to be Tampa Bay’s kryptonite. He turned aside 33 shots, improving his record to 4-0 against the Lightning and with three of the wins coming by one-goal margins.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Lightning don’t lose all that often – except to Binnington.
For the Blues, now 15-5-6, it was their ninth one-goal win of the season.
“It’s not ideal all the time,” Binnington said. “It’s fun to compete like that and just battle to the end. It’s good when it goes your way, but we’re not so happy when it goes the other way.”
It went the Blues’ way Wednesday thanks to two second-period goals by Sundqvist, who didn’t make it to the third period because of a lower body injury. He was on crutches in the locker room area after the game.
“We’ll take a look at him tomorrow, and we’ll give you a better update of what’s going on,” coach Craig Berube said.
With the game tied 2-2, Zach Sanford and Brayden Schenn scored within three minutes of each other in the third period to give St. Louis a two-goal lead. But wouldn’t you know, Tampa Bay made it a 4-3 on Brayden Point’s power-play goal with 5 minutes 37 seconds remaining.
The Lightning unleashed some fury shortly after that. The NHL’s highest-scoring team pelted Binnington with all kinds of shots, from every direction, all angles, and a variety of distances. The Blues survived, although Binnington’s not exactly sure what transpired during the frantic finish
"I don't really even remember to be honest, but it's all pretty wild,” he said. “You're just trying to compete out there and keep the puck out of the net. But I know we were all battling out there, and that was good to see and good to hear that buzzer go."
Sanford had some rough moments earlier. Tampa’s first goal, from 35 feet away by Nikita Kucherov, deflected off Sanford in the slot. He felt badly enough about it, that he went over to Binnington and gave him a “my bad” tap on the pads with his stick.
Sanford then compounded the problem by being called for slashing 31 seconds later.
“There was a couple errors he made for sure,” Berube said. “That’s kind of a weak call on the penalty. I don’t think it’s a penalty. That happens. But ‘Sanny’ did a good job there coming back. He reacted well. I thought he had a good third period.”
That’s ‘Sanny” as in Sanford; as opposed to “Sunny” as in Sundqvist.
Sundqvist removed any angst caused by the Sanford penalty with a shorthanded goal to tie the game at 1-1. Just 3:09 later, Sundqvist struck again, this time in 5-on-5 play, for his eighth goal of the season.
It marked the second time in four games that Sundqvist had scored twice. But any chance for his first NHL hat trick ended when he didn’t come out for the third period because of what looks to be a right foot or ankle injury.
“He’s an effective player even when he’s not putting points up,” Binnington said. “So he’s tough to lose but hopefully it’s nothing too serious.”
Tampa Bay tied it 2-2 on a diving tap-in by Anthony Cirelli after a Lightning shot that appeared to be deflected at least twice.
But in the third period, Sanford atoned for his earlier sins with the go-ahead goal with 11:39 left in the game.
“I was just head down trying to bust back (up the ice),” Sanford said. “Then I turned around and I saw Barbs got the turnover there.”
Sanford changed directions in time to get a pass from Ivan Barbashev.
“He put it right on the money for me,” Sanford said. “I was just trying to hit the net there and it got through.”
Then it was Schenn’s turn to get the puck past reigning Vezina Trophy recipient Andrei Vasilevskiy for his 13th goal of the season.
Schenn didn’t get his 13th goal last season until March 9 at San Jose. Yes, he’s ahead of schedule. It was his sixth power play goal this season, coming just five seconds after Blues failed to connect on a 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 1:44 (with two Tampa Bay skaters in the box).
It turned out to be his third game-winner in the Blues’ four victories over the Lightning this season and last.
“He’s doing a good job,” Berube said. “He’s finding ways to score goals different ways. Tonight was a power play, but he’s producing for us. Which we need.”
Especially with Sundqvist joining an ever-growing injury list that also includes Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder surgery), Alexander Steen (ankle) and Sammy Blais (wrist surgery).
It’s definitely a character test for the Blues, and on Wednesday they were able to pass that test once Sundqvist went down.
“It goes back to the leaders, and everyone on this team from top to bottom who can step up and maybe take over a little more of a role,” Sanford said. “Or change their role a little bit to help the team be successful. And we’ve been doing a good job of it.”
One of those players who stepped up against the Lightning was Barbashev, who had the primary assist on the Blues’ first three goals. The three assists set a career high for Barbashev, who hadn’t been happy with his play lately.
“I just passed the puck and glad Sunny put two in and Sanny (scored) too,” Barbashev said. “I didn't play good for a little while but it was a good game so I'm happy about it.”