TAMPA, Fla. — Sequels rarely live up to the original and Thursday’s rematch between the Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning hardly resembled the Dec. 19 thriller at T-Mobile Arena.
The Knights held off the Lightning 4-3 that night. Things were more lopsided the second time around as the Knights dominated from start to finish and handled the NHL’s best team with ease, posting a 4-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena.
“I thought the pace was a lot better the last time we played them,” said Knights coach Gerard Gallant, whose team had lost two straight. “But they were coming off their break and they weren’t as sharp as they usually are. We found a way to score some goals and we made some good plays. Overall, it’s a huge win for us after losing two in a row.”
The Knights regained their scoring touch, as four different players had goals. James Neal, Nate Schmidt, David Perron and William Karlsson scored as the Knights bounced back from a 1-0 loss Tuesday at Nashville. The victory gave the Knights a sweep of their season series with the Lightning, which was playing their first game off a week-long bye in what was a battle of the NHL’s two top teams.
“I thought we were good in Nashville in the third period and we carried it over to (Thursday),” said Neal, who scored his 19th of the year 56 seconds into the game. “It was a good test, and we were very good all night.”
A second-period power-play goal by Ondrej Palat kept the Lightning from being shut out. The goal ended the Knights’ streak of successful penalty kills at 25, but it was the only one Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury let get by him as he stopped 28 shots.
“It was a big win,” said Fleury, who along with Neal and Gallant will be back here next weekend representing the Knights in the NHL All-Star game. “They’re one of, if not the best team in the league and I thought we played a complete game. Getting that early goal helped everyone relax and it gave us confidence.”
The Lightning have lost two straight and four of their last six. They played without All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman, who is out 3-6 weeks with a knee injury. But coach Jon Cooper wasn’t making excuses.
“We’ve been a pretty good defensive team, but it’s been a little frustrating here the last little bit,” Cooper said. “It stems a little bit to a team that’s used to scoring goals. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to score. But you’ve heard me say this for five years — It’s what you keep out of the net, not what you put into the net.”
The goals the Knights scored were all timely. Neal’s in the first minute. Schmidt’s late in the first period which made it 2-0. Perron’s late in the second period to make it 3-1 and Karlsson’s, his team-leading 24th, just 18 seconds into the third period to add to the cushion. It kept the momentum on the Knights’ side and they’ll look to carry that over into Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida.
“They were all big given when they took place,” Schmidt said. “You never want to give a team like that any life, and we were able to prevent that.”
Gallant said a 5-on-3 penalty kill by his team midway through the third period was also big, even if the two-man advantage lasted just 20 seconds.
“If they score on either the 5-on-3 or the 5-on-4, they’re right back in it,” Gallant said. “I thought the guys did an excellent job killing it off, and it gave us the momentum back.”