When you’re up against the reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions, it’s already a pretty tough task to get a good result.
From the get-go, the Lightning demonstrated that the game would be theirs and nothing but theirs, dominating the Sharks in possession. The first blow to the Sharks came just four minutes into the game, as Ross Colton’s intended cross-crease pass to Taylor Raddysh took a bounce off of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and went past James Reimer to open the scoring for Tampa Bay.
Unlucky bounce off of Vlasic, and Ross Colton scores the first goal of the game. pic.twitter.com/qiOIh1pCiE— Skateboard B (@BDFwrites) January 23, 2022
It didn’t help that the goal was essentially a 2-on-1, with Radim Simek caught up ice after finishing a check on Ryan McDonaugh. Matt Nieto got back to help Vlasic out, but it didn’t matter in the end.
Four minutes later, Mathieu Joseph set up a screen in front of James Reimer, with Vlasic on him, leading to Lightning captain Steven Stamkos simply sniping a wrist-shot past Reimer from the faceoff circle to make it a 2-0 game.
It did not get better from there, as I’m sure you can imagine.
Stamkos once again created havoc on a zone-entry on the left-wing, shaking Brent Burns before driving in on Reimer. Stamkos’ initial shot was stopped by Reimer, but Mathieu Joseph drove to the net, got the puck loose and buried the rebound. Joseph’s refusal to give up on the play put the Lightning up three.
Not two minutes later, the Bolts continued to pour it on: Patrick Maroon won a board battle and kicked the puck out to Corey Perry, who then swept it to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Bellemare kicked the puck to Ryan McDonaugh at the point, whose shot hit the referee, but Bellemare then recovered the puck and took a shot that Reimer turned away. Perry was there on a wide-open rebound chance, and buried it to all but put the game away for Tampa Bay.
At that point, Bob Boughner needed to do something to wake his team up, so he made a change in net, replacing James Reimer with Adin Hill. The consensus was that this game was not on Reimer, with Brian Engblom on the Lightning broadcast saying as much.
The change gave the Sharks some life — not much, but some. In a rare instance in the first period where the team had some time in the offensive zone, Ryan Merkley recovered a blocked shot from Tomas Hertl before finding Jaycob Megna at the top of the point, who let go what seemed like a “why not?” shot that found its way past Brian Elliott to get the Sharks on the board.
The Sharks came out for the second period looking and playing much better, and almost drew within two when Timo Meier put the puck in the back of the net. The play was called back when it was determined the puck was sent in with a distinct kicking motion, so the score remained 4-1.
Despite having a much better offensive second period, generating 1.11 Expected Goals (xG) as opposed to the Lightning’s 0.48, it did not lead to success on the scoreboard. In fact, the opposite happened: Ryan Merkley went to pinch on a loose puck around the boards, but Anthony Cirelli got past him, leading to a 3-on-1 opportunity that ended with Brayden Point restoring the Lightning’s four-goal lead.
The Sharks earned a power play midway through the second, but some sloppy play throughout the skater-advantage led to boos from the home crowd, as the team couldn’t convert, marking the sixth time in the last seven opportunities that the Sharks were held scoreless on the power play.
If the Sharks had any momentum in the second period, it fell apart in the third. On a power play five minutes into the period, Alex Killorn drove to the net and got there just in time to tip in a shot from the point by Victor Hedman to add on to the rout, making it 6-1 Tampa Bay.
The Lightning didn’t need to wait long to add yet another. Just 33 seconds after Killorn’s goal, Mikhail Sergachev’s blocked shot came back to him, releasing a wrist-shot that went off of Taylor Raddysh’s skate before Ross Colton tucked it in for his second of the game.
Despite the Sharks getting some offensive zone time in the final few minutes of the third period, it was a lost cause. They headed to the locker room the losers of a very lopsided contest.
Frankly, this was a game that showed the disparity between a playoffs bubble team (if even that) such as the Sharks and a tried-and-true contender such as the Lightning. Things won’t get any easier for the Sharks, either. The team will now head out on a road trip to take on four Eastern Conference juggernauts, beginning with the Washington Capitals in D.C. on Wednesday.