The team of Lightning prospects and rookies that started the 2019 NHL Prospects Showcase on Saturday was not the same group that finished the three-game tournament Tuesday.
The Lightning were sluggish, tentative and lacked confidence in an opening-game 4-1 defeat to the host Nashville Predators at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tenn. Game two Sunday against Carolina was better, but the Lightning started poorly and could never quite overcome their early deficit, falling 7-4.
By game three, however, the Bolts were a well-oiled machine.
Tampa Bay took control of its final showcase game against the Washington Capitals in the second period, outscoring the Caps 4-1 during the middle frame to roll to a dominate 7-2 victory and pick up its only win of the three-game round robin. The Lightning finished the showcase 1-2 but left Nashville feeling much better about themselves than they did at the beginning.
Video: Prospects Showcase Recap
"Those first two games, that's not the kind of team that we want to be," forward Ross Colton said. "All in all, guys showed that they can step up, and coming out with a win will be good for everyone."
Colton led all Lightning players for scoring at the showcase with three goals and three assists in only two games (he didn't play in the Nashville loss). His goal at 12:59 of the second period against Washington pushed Tampa Bay's lead back to two goals at 4-2 after the Caps cut the deficit to one and sparked a run of four-straight goals for the Bolts to close out the contest.
Colton finished Tuesday's game with two goals and an assist to earn Second Star honors.
Boris Katchouk netted the game's opening goal for Tampa Bay at 10:57 of the first period and tallied a second goal on the power play at 4:16 of the second to extend the Lightning lead to 3-1. Katchouk also recorded two goals and an assist against the Caps and was named the game's First Star.
"We were watching video day in and day out," Katchouk said, describing how his team grew with each tournament game. "Coach (Benoit) Groulx really implemented some key things that we had to fix in our structure going into game two, going into game three. I think we really gelled as a team together, and our final product really showed in the third game."
There were plenty of positives to draw from over the three-game affair for the Bolts, particularly in the final two games. The power play connected on two of its three opportunities against the Caps and scored five times between the Carolina loss and Washington victory. The line combination of Katchouk, Colton and Taylor Raddysh was lethal for the Lightning against Washington, those three teaming up for four goals and three assists.
"We're good friends off the ice and had a good season last year in Syracuse even though it got cut a little short," Colton explained. "We played together a lot last year…I feel like we just know where we're going to be on the ice at all times. We saw that a couple times where we got good scoring chances just because guys were in the right spots and finding sticks. Hopefully it rolls into camp this week and we all do a good job."
Defensively, the Lightning, led by Matt Spencer and his four showcase assists - three in the Washington win alone - were much improved in the finale, holding a high-powered Capitals offense to just one five-on-five score. And the goalie combination of Matt Greenfield (started and played 40 minutes) and Clint Windsor (relieved Greenfield to start the third), both camp invitees, gave up just two goals on 36 shots.
Tampa Bay outshot Washington 39-36, its first time in three games finishing a contest with an advantage in shots.
Video: Prospects Showcase | Katchouk
"Coach emphasized we have to come out a little harder," Colton said. "It was going to be a tougher game, just being our third game in four days and a good team over there. We had a good practice (Monday) and wanted to come out flying from the first shift. We had four lines going, good goaltending the whole game and I thought our D played really well moving the puck up to us and getting us scoring chances. All around, it was just a good job."
After Washington leveled the score 1:24 following Tampa Bay's opening goal, the Lightning scored twice within the first five minutes of the second period to build a multi-goal lead. Washington got a goal back on the power play, but the Bolts scored twice more in the second to take a 5-2 advantage into the locker room and added a pair of goals in the third, Nolan Foote scoring goal No. 6 at 9:49 of the third and Colton adding the seventh on a power-play at 13:06.
Katchouk, Colton, Spencer and Nolan Foote (goal, 2 assists) all had multi-point games in the win over Washington.
For the tournament, Taylor Raddysh (2 goals, 2 assists), Foote (goal, 3 assists) and Spencer each had four points to finish in a three-way tie for second for scoring behind Colton's six points.
The prospects will have the day off Wednesday before the Bolts' main training camp opens Thursday at AMALIE Arena.