Lightning happy to be done with road trip, host Blackhawks

League: NHL

Posted on: 08 Nov, 2023 at 10:59 PM

Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

On an evening when two players had memorable outings, the Tampa Bay Lightning closed out an erratic four-game road trip in Montreal on Tuesday with a win before a brief two-game homestand.

Tampa Bay will host the young Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night -- two clubs who famously met in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning lost that championship series in six games, and there was no Cup-like celebration in the Tampa Bay dressing room after Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Canadiens.

But there was still plenty of joy in the legendary Quebec building from the visiting side.

The team celebrated the first career NHL win of 29-year-old goaltender Matt Tomkins, who was brought in to support Jonas Johansson when star netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent back surgery during camp.

In his third career start, Tomkins held Montreal off the board until Nick Suzuki's power-play tally 6:50 into the third period.

Tomkins gave up two more goals, but it was not enough to dampen the mood of the Lightning, who went 2-1-1 on the four-game trip and netted five of eight possible points.

Tough losses at Columbus and Toronto darkened the journey, but Nicholas Paul and his teammates could not have been happier for the former Ohio State goalie -- a seventh-round pick (199th overall) by Chicago in the 2012 draft who spent the last two seasons in the Swedish Hockey League.

"That's someone who put the work in," said Paul, who scored two goals against the Canadiens. "It wasn't an easy road for him. He just kept his head down and grind, grind, grind. To get him that first win (Tuesday), especially in this building, is huge."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it was a perfect script for Tomkins.

"If you were going to draw it up, I'm not sure you can draw it up any better than getting to play in the Bell Center against the Montreal Canadiens," Cooper said. "That's your first NHL win. The guys were thrilled for him. ... It was great to be a part of that."

In his first time playing in an NHL game in Montreal, Quebec native Alex Barre-Boulet scored in his home province.

Tampa Bay called up forward Waltteri Merela from AHL affiliate Syracuse on Wednesday.

Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson is thrilled to have Swiss right winger Philipp Kurashev back and skating on the top line with Nick Foligno and 2023 No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard, the 18-year-old phenom.

Kurashev, 24, missed the season's first six games and returned Oct. 24 against the Boston Bruins.

The second-year Blackhawks coach likes the look of Kurashev's game.

"He's been great," Richardson said of the 2018 fourth-round pick (120th overall) after Saturday's 5-2 win over the visiting Florida Panthers. "You'd have to argue that he was our best all-around player (against Florida). He's playing great offensively, but he is usually the first guy in on the forecheck and usually the first guy back on the track."

Kurashev has two goals and two assists in five contests.

"He's an intelligent player," Richardson added. "We've always counted on him. He's a good two-way player, but he's kind of taking that step offensively. He's playing with some really good players, and they're doing a lot of good work together."

The Blackhawks will play at Tampa Bay and Florida (Sunday) before returning home to face the Lightning on Nov. 16.

--Field Level Media