On Monday, the Lightning defeated an old nemesis in a building where they hardly ever win. A day later, the effort was there against a Detroit team in search of revenge for last season’s first round playoff defeat. The result, however, wasn’t as the Bolts suffered their first loss of the 2015-16.
Tampa Bay finished its season-opening road trip 2-1-0, coming home with four of a possible six points. On Thursday, the Lightning return to Amalie Arena for a two-game set. Before welcoming the Bolts home, let’s look back at the last two games and what we learned.
1. QUICK STRIKES
Last year, the penalty kill was a strength for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bolts finishing the regular season tied for seventh in the NHL on the PK with an 83.7 percent success rate.
That particular special teams success has yet to carry over into 2015-16, however.
Through four games, the Lightning have found themselves a man down 12 times. They’ve allowed five power-play goals, a penalty-kill rate of just 58.3 percent, second worst in the league.
And it’s not just the number of goals the Bolts are giving up, the speed at which they’re surrendering them is most alarming.
In Tampa Bay’s 6-3 victory in Boston, the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, both goals coming on the power play. David Krejci scored 18 seconds into Boston’s first power play. Loui Eriksson needed just 23 seconds to convert the Bruins’ second power play.
A day later at Detroit, Matt Carle was called for a weak tripping penalty on Wings forward Gustav Nyquist in the second period. Twelve seconds later, Nyquist wristed a shot from the right dot past Bishop for the opening goal in a game the Lightning would lose 3-1.
Currently, the Lightning rank near the top of the NHL for least penalty minutes a game (6).
That’s fortunate because, right now, the Bolts aren’t very good on the penalty kill.
2. REDEMPTION SONG
The talk before Tuesday’s first round 2015 playoff rematch between Tampa Bay and Detroit centered around the Red Wings’ pursuit of redemption.
The Lightning knocked Detroit out of the postseason in seven physical, hard-fought contests en route to the Stanley Cup Final. The Red Wings were, arguably, the Bolts’ toughest playoff opponent until the Cup Final.
No doubt, Detroit coaches, players and fans wondered what could have been as they watched the Lightning progress through each round of the playoffs.
What if they held on to that late two-goal lead in Game 4?
What if they closed out the series in Game 6 on home ice in front of a frothing-at-the-mouth Joe Louis crowd.
What if they had scored the opening goal in Game 7 in Tampa Bay, changing the complexion of that do-or-die contest?
Tuesday was the Red Wings’ day to take out all of their offseason frustration on the Lightning, a day the Wings had circled on their calendar since the summer.
Problem is, the Lightning also responded with a pretty solid game of their own despite playing the second gaing me of a back-to-back and coming off a three-game road trip, preventing the Red Wings from unloading like they wanted to.
Consider Tampa Bay was in a similar situation early last year season. After getting swept by Montreal in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, the Lightning waited all summer for payback. When the Lightning and the Canadians met for the first time in the fourth game of 2014-15, the resolute Bolts blew out the Habs 7-1.
The Bolts made sure there wouldn’t be a similar beat down on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay might have lost to Detroit 3-1 for its first defeat of the season.
But the Lightning showed that there will be no nights off for them this year in a game that, on paper, set up as a possible runaway.
3. BURYING DEMONS
Tampa Bay’s struggles in Boston have been well-documented.
Entering this season, the Lightning hadn’t won in Beantown since March 25, 2010, dropping 10-consecutive games to the Bruins at TD Garden.
The Bolts were 4-29-4 with six ties all-time in Boston.
Which makes their 6-3 runaway victory on Monday even more impressive.
You have to go all the way back to the 1993-94 season, the Bolts second in franchise history, to find a regular season game in which Tampa Bay won in Boston by three or more goals (3-0 on April 9, 1994). The Lightning also beat Boston on the road 5-2 to open the Eastern Conference Final in 2011, but dropped the next three in the city, including a winner-take-all Game 7.
Quite simply, Tampa Bay wins in Boston come around about as frequently as a solar eclipse.
When the Lightning fell behind 2-0 on Monday, it would have been easy for the Bolts to fold, resigned to their fate of another doomed outing in New England.
Instead, they showed their mettle.
By the end of the first period, the Bolts had battled back to tie the game.
Steven Stamkos provided the game-winning goal on a power-play late in the second period, recording the 500th point of his NHL career in the process, and the Lightning tacked on two more goals in the third period to wipe away previous frustrations in Boston.
Columbus Day was cathartic for the Lightning. It was also a testament to the fortitude of this championship-caliber team.