The Tampa Bay Lightning finally earned their first road victory of 2009, and they did it in overtime— a double whammy that killed two issues plaguing the team this year.
The only better outcome for the Bolts would have been if they could have won it in the shootout, which would have eliminated all three albatrosses at once.
Tampa Bay entered the game 0-4-1 in road games this season, a stark contrast from their dominant play on home ice (4-0-3). The Lightning were also 0-4 in overtime and shootouts, losing all four games by shootout.
Even though it was against the lowly Leafs, who haven't won a home game this season, the win does count and it was a big one.
With Alex Ovechkin out at least two weeks for the division-leading Capitals, the Lightning may be able to make up some ground in the Southeast division and at least have the Caps looking over their shoulders a bit.
The Leafs came out charged in this one thanks to the debut of Phil Kessel, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade back in September but had yet to play because he was recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
Tampa Bay weathered the Leafs and the officials (who gave Toronto eight power plays) thanks primarily to the incredible performance by Antero Niittymaki.
Following Mike Smith's horrid performance against the Flyers (a 6-1 yuckfest), Niitty was the steel backbone of the Bolts, basically standing on his head to keep the Lightning in the game.
Finishing the game with 40 saves, Niitty allowed the Lightning enough time to get goals from Vincent Lecavalier and, in the overtime period, Ryan Malone for the win.
Kessel was a real bright spot for the Leafs. He was all over the ice and had a multitude of scoring chances. He finished the game with 10 shots on goal while displaying speed, playmaking ability, and stick skills.
He also took a major blast from Lightning defenseman Mattais Ohlund.
The O-Train blasted Kessel as he darted in over the Lightning blue line, touching off a minor dust up. Still, to the young forward's credit, he continued to play hard and had it not been for Niittymaki, may have been the hero for the Leafs.
Ryan Malone ended a month of frustration for Tampa Bay, tapping in the winner during a goal mouth scramble that generated protests from the Toronto bench.
Malone could have been called for interference with goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, but wasn't. It was also a close call with the goal coming off its moorings as the puck crossed the line.
Overhead review confirmed the goal and the Lightning skated off with a hard fought victory.
The question that must be revisited now is the goalie situation for the Lightning.
With Niittymaki playing like an All-Star and Smith inconsistent, how can Lightning coach Rick Tocchet justify going with Smith as the top netminder?
When the Lightning acquired Mike Smith for perennial All-Star Brad Richards, it was promised that Smith would solve the Lightning's goaltending problems for the next few years.
Unfortunately, Smith has been bit by the injury bug and inconsistency, not rising to the level the Lightning brass had hoped.
If he continues to get the call over Niittymaki, it's more of a political decision than an on-ice one.
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