LIGHTNING : GAMES 56 – 60 : RECAP
By Leo Haggerty

This span of five games starts immediately with a roadie in South Florida against the Panthers.  Then its back to Amalie Arena for a triad of contests before hitting the road to play Columbus.

In my mind right now, the Bolts are an anomaly.  I, along with a huge majority of the media members throughout North America that follow the National Hockey League, are waiting for the normal lull that a professional hockey team goes through over the course of an entire 82-game season.  We are all waiting for that four or more game losing skid that almost all NHL clubs go through between October and March.

Maybe, just maybe, the Lightning will not go through those doldrums.  They are getting production on all four lines.  Their defense is improving with every game.  Their goalies are superb no matter who is between the pipes.

I’m starting to think the latter of the two will apply to Tampa Bay this season.  The only thing left to do is to watch this scenario play out.

FLORIDA PANTHERS (W 5-2)

The Tampa Bay Lightning made it two wins in a row with a 5-2 triumph over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.  This increased the Bolts advantage in the Atlantic Division over second-place Toronto to a whopping 15 points.

Showing no ill-effects of having to travel after a very physical home victory against Pittsburgh the night before, Tampa Bay opening the scoring at 4:02 of the first period.  F Nikita Kucherov (23), who ended a ten-game scoring drought, shot a missile past Panthers G James Reimer.   That would be all the scoring in the first 20 minutes as the Lightning left the ice with a 1-0 lead.

In the middle period, both teams exploded for two goals each.  The Lightning went ahead 2-0 at 12:08 when F Steven Stamkos (29) found the back of the net.  Florida cut the lead in half just over a minute later but the Bolts extended the lead to 3-1 at 17:51.  Little-used F Ryan Callahan (6) outworked the Florida defenders to give Tampa Bay a two-goal margin.  Again, the Panthers cut the advantage to 3-2 one tick short of a minute later and the score remained there at the conclusion of the second period..

The third period began with a new net-minder for the Panthers.  Veteran G Roberto Luongo was between the pipes but it was to no avail for Florida.  The Bolts put up two power-play markers on the board while G Louis Domingue shut out the Panthers for the final 20 minutes.  F Brayden Point (32) lit the lamp at 4:25 and Kucherov (24) ended the scoring at 19:12.

#70 turned away 25 shot in securing the victory that moved his overall record to 18-4-0. That was Domingue’s tenth straight win which is a Tampa Bay franchise record.  G Reimers made 9 saves in the first two period and #1 made 9 in the final 20 minutes.

Now the Bolts return home for a three-gamer at Amalie Arena.  The opponent Tuesday night will be the Western Division leading Calgary Flames and that should make for a very interesting contest.

CALGARY FLAMES (W 6-3)

Tampa Bay started their home stand with a 6-3 win over Calgary who just happen to be the best team in the NHL Western Conference.  That increased the Lightning win streak to three games as well as their consecutive games with a point to six tilts.

After a lackluster first half of the opening period, the Lightning kicked the offense into high gear and it started with the Bolts lethal power-play.  With the man advantage, Point (33) went top shelf on Flames G David Rittich at 11:54 to start the offensive onslaught.  That goal was followed by F Cedric Paquette (9) at 16:06 and Kucherov (25) 73 seconds later.  Calgary did answer during a 5-on-3 power-play to cut the Tampa Bay lead to 3-1 and that’s how the first period ended.

In the middle period, the Flames cut the deficit to 3-2 but the Lightning countered that less than a minute later when F Anthony Cirelli (11) lit the lamp at 10:10.  The Bolts stretched their lead at 16:11 when F Yanni Gourde (15) redirected a shot into the back of the net.  That gave Tampa Bay a commanding 5-2 lead at the second intermission.

The Lightning went up 6-2 early in the third period with another power-play goal.  Stamkos (30) launched a laser with his patented one-timer from the left circle at 5:01.  Calgary got one back to cut the margin to 6-3 with a power-play marker of their own at 14:11 but it was too little and too late.

Bolts G Andrei Vasilevskiy made 19 saves and upped his record to 23-7-4 on the campaign.  Flames G Rittich stopped 21 shots in taking the loss.

Next up for the Bolts will be the Dallas Stars at Amalie Arena and a possible showdown with former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop.  That will be worth the price of admission alone.

DALLAS STARS (W 6-0)

The offensive barrage continued for the Lightning as Tampa Bay shut out the Dallas Stars 6-0 at Amalie Arena.  That runs the Bolts winning streak to four games as well as seven consecutive contests with a point.

Tampa Bay wasted no time and exploded for four first period goals in the space of a little under 7:30.  Stamkos (31) started the onslaught with a power-play marker at 7:19.  D Mikhail Sergachev (3) increased the lead to 2-0 at 12:39.  14 seconds later, F Tyler Johnson (20) put the biscuit in the basket to make the score 3-0 and Stars Coach Jim Montgomery decided it was time to make a change in goal.  The insertion of G  Anton Khudobin for Landon Bow between the pipes didn’t slow down the Bolts as Kucherov (26) completed the scoring in the first period at 14:40.  That sent the Lightning to the locker room with a commanding 4-0 advantage at the first intermission.

The Bolts continued to light the lamp with two more goals in the middle period.  F Alex Killorn (12) made it 5-0 at 8:23 and Stamkos (32) blistered a power-play laser into the back of the net to increase the Tampa Bay advantage to 6-0 and that would be the arithmetic at the completion of 40 minutes of play.

The final 30 minutes was dominated by the goalies. Lightning G Vasilevskiy and both Stars net minders kept both teams off the scoreboard making the final count 6-0 in favor of the Bolts.

#88 made 32 saves to improve to 24-7-4 this season.  The Dallas goalies made 20 saves in a game that, for all intents and purposes, was over at the end of the opening period.

The Bolts will finish off the home stand with a tilt against the Montreal Canadians.  Let’s see if the Lightning can keep the ball rolling on the left side of the dash.

MONTREAL CANADIENS (W 3-0)

The Bolts won their fifth consecutive contest with a 3-0 whitewashing of the Canadiens at Amalie Arena.  It was also the eighth straight game where the Lighting managed at least a point.

This game was all about the goaltenders.  Tampa Bay G Vasilevskiy and Montreal G Carey Price were both outstanding posting goose eggs on the scoreboard for the first 40 minutes of play.

Finally, at the 2:16 mark of the final period, Kucherov (27) lit the lamp with a power-play goal to give the Bolts a 1-0 advantage.  At 3:41 the Lightning increased their margin to 2-0 with Gourde (16) putting the biscuit in the basket.  Johnson (21), after having a goal disallowed, completed the scoring at 16:46 to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 triumph.

#88 stopped 20 shots as he ran his record to 25-7-4 on the campaign.  G Price came up with 34 saves in a losing effort.

Now the Bolts take to the road for a date with the Blue Jackets in Columbus.  Coach John Tortorella’s club is 5-1 in their last six games so this should be a real test for the Lightning.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (W 5-1)

Again, it was the Andrei Vaselevskiy show.  The Bolts net-minder ran his record to an impressive 26-7-4 as the Lightning came away with a 5-1 triumph against the Blue Jackets at the Nationwide Arena.

Not only did #88 come within 1:45 of his third consecutive shutout but made 20 saves in the opening 20 minutes as his Tampa Bay teammates got their game going.  It took until about halfway through the first period for the Bolts to hit their stride but, once they did, it was Katie bar the door from there.

Kucherov (28) started the scoring at 11:18 when he went top-shelf on Columbus G Joonas Korpisalo.  #86 (29) put the puck in the back of the net again at 14:24 and Tampa Bay took that 2-0 advantage to the locker room at the first intermission.

The Bolts scored the only goal late in the middle period.  That increased the Lightning lead to 3-0 at 19:31 when Stamkos (33) blistered a shot into the back of the net during a two-man advantage.

Tampa Bay wasted no time increasing their advantage in the third period.  Still on the power-play, the Lightning made it 4-0 as Point (34) scored just 12 seconds into the last 20 minutes.  #21 (35) put the biscuit in the basket again just 35 seconds later to give the Bolts a 5-0 lead.

The Blue Jackets finally dented the scoreboard with a 1:45 left in the contest.  That was the first goal given up by Vasilevskiy in a little over 183 minutes.

#88 made 39 saves in the win.  Columbus G Korpisalo stopped 15 shots in a losing cause.

So, the Bolts finished this set of five games with the maximum 10 points.  The next five-game sequence starts immediately in Philly, where the Flyers are 8-1-1 in their last ten games, and the Lightning riding a six-game winning streak and points in the last nine games.  Tampa Bay then heads back to Amalie Arena for a pair of contests with Buffalo and Los Angeles.  Then it’s back on the road with a trip to the Northeast to New York and Boston.

So, the Lightning are the best team in the NHL by a whopping 15 points over Calgary.  Will the beat go on?  Stay turned for the next installment at the end of February to see what transpires.