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Burns: 3 Things from an OT win in Ottawa

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts 2-1 win in overtime in Ottawa

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Don't look now but the Tampa Bay Lightning are in a playoff spot.

Okay, so the New York Islanders technically own the tiebreaker over the Lightning currently for the second wild card in the East. Both the Bolts and the Isles are level with 77 points, but New York has 32 wins in regulation and overtime to Tampa Bay's 30.

Still, considering where the Lightning were a little more than a month ago, tied with Buffalo for last place in the Atlantic Division and in 15th place out of 16 teams in the East on February 3, the fact they've made it this far is nothing short of miraculous.

On Tuesday, the Bolts continued rolling, ending the Senators' six-game win streak courtesy of a 2-1 overtime victory in Ottawa. Tampa Bay has won four in a row itself and now owns a 12-2-3 record since that low point of the season a month ago, which, oddly enough, was capped off by a lackluster 5-2 defeat at home to Ottawa.

The road doesn't get any easier for the Bolts with 13 games remaining in the regular season. The Lightning host Toronto, which the Bolts leapfrogged courtesy of the Ottawa win, on Thursday at AMALIE Arena.

But before looking ahead, let's break down another hard-fought Tampa Bay win in 3 Things we learned from an OT victory in Ottawa.

Video: TBL@OTT: Vasilevskiy sprawls to stifle Turris

1. BOLTS BETTER IN NET?

When Ben Bishop was traded to Los Angeles for Peter Budaj three days before the trade deadline, the general consensus was the Lightning were taking a bit of a hit in net. Sure Budaj was having a career season with the Kings filling in for the injured Jonathan Quick, bringing 27 wins and seven shutouts with him to Tampa Bay.

But the Bolts were losing a Vezina Trophy finalist who backstopped Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and a return trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2016. Even though his 2016-17 season wasn't as good as previous ones with the Lightning, Bishop was still going to be a major loss.

Surprisingly, however, Lightning goaltending has surged in the absence of Bishop. Andrei Vasilevskiy, now the unquestioned No. 1 starter, has appeared much more comfortable and confident in his new role. Without the safety net of Bishop to turn to should he stumble, Vasilevskiy has thrived, going 6-0-1 since the Bishop trade. He's absorbed the lessons learned as Bishop's apprentice over the past two-plus seasons and now has taken ownership of the Lightning's starting goaltending position.

Playing every third or fourth game, Vasilevskiy struggled to maintain consistency. Between the pipes nearly every night now, he's realizing the potential the Lightning felt he had when they made him their top choice in the 2012 Draft.

"He's just been calm," Cooper said. "He's exuding confidence. He's consuming every rebound. With every save, you just grow a little on the bench. He's given that to us."

Budaj has stepped into his role as backup and mentor to Vasilevskiy like the veteran he is. His performance a night earlier in Madison Square Garden (26 saves on 28 shots) showed the Lightning they have two very capable netminders currently. And the clearly defined roles for both Vasilevskiy and Budaj have made them a dangerous tandem as the Bolts push for the postseason.

"This little run we're on," Cooper reasoned, "we're not there without our goaltending."

 Video: TBL@OTT: Vasilevskiy denies Karlsson's one-timer

2. TIMELY KILLING
Tampa Bay's penalty kill has taken a hit this season, what once was one of the NHL's top units a year ago struggling to achieve the same level this season.

Of late, however, the penalty kill has quietly been turning in some solid performances. On Tuesday, it went 2-for-2, extending its streak of not allowing an opponent power-play goal to five games.

Against Ottawa, the unit came up with a pair of timely kills too.

With the game tied 1-1, the Senators finally earned their first power play of the game at 3:37 of the third period when Victor Hedman cross-checked Bobby Ryan. A goal in that spot could have put the Lightning in a world of hurt, the Senators rallying from an early 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 lead in the final period with a chance to squeeze the life out of the Bolts over the last half of the third. Instead, Ottawa got two quick shots off early in the power play and nothing else and the game remained tied.

Later, with 1:58 to go in regulation, the Lightning were whistled for too many men, but that's just when the Bolts' penalty kill saved their best of the work of the night. Tampa Bay won face-offs to keep the puck away from the Senators as much as possible, and Vasilevskiy did the rest, coming out of his crease to deny Zack Smith's wrist shot from the left dot on Ottawa's best chance.

The Lightning penalty kill saved the game and two points for the Bolts.

"As much as you give (Ottawa goalie Mike) Condon credit for his play, you've got to give our penalty kill, who's been at times this year has been a little bit maligned, but when you need a penalty killed off, especially when it's a too many men, that doesn't look good on the guys standing in suits behind the bench, to get through that in the last two minutes, it was just uplifting for the guys," Cooper said. "Fortunately, for us, we carried it home."

 Video: TBL@OTT: Hedman drills home OT winner from Palat

3. GOOD MIX OF VETS AND ROOKS

Since the trade deadline, the Lightning have regularly used a number of first- and second-year players in their lineup, guys that were thought to be targeted for the AHL for the entire season, to positive results.

Players like Yanni Gourde, Adam Erne, Luke Witkowski and newcomer Byron Froese have all injected youth and energy to a Lightning lineup that at times felt stale earlier in the regular season.

The mix of youthful exuberance combined with the veteran leadership of players who have been through the playoff battles over the last three seasons, has combined to provide the winning formula for the Lightning currently.

"Those boys, man are they battling hard," Cooper said. "It's been a lot of fun to be behind the bench with these guys."

One look at the final statsheet shows Tuesday's road victory was a total team effort. Vasilevskiy was stellar once again in net. Victor Hedman continued his candidacy for the Norris Trophy after scoring the game-winning goal, giving him career highs now for goals (14), assists (45) and points (59) this season. Brayden Point kept up his torrid play, scoring his third goal in the last two games. But look beyond the highlights and you'll see Adam Erne dishing out seven hits and chipping in three shots, part of a physical, attacking third line for the Bolts. Gabriel Dumont blocked three shots, and the Lightning had 19 blocked shots total, two off their season high. Gourde, centering the second line and getting ice time during the 3-on-3 overtime in just his ninth career NHL game, tied Ondrej Palat for most shots with four.

"Everybody's contributing, whether it's a guy winning a face-off or blocking a shot or scoring the big goal," Cooper said. "But a lot of those guys that have been down that road with us the last couple years, it's almost like they're going to lead the way and the new guys coming up aren't going to let them down. That's kind of working for us."

Video: TBL@OTT: Point quickly adjusts to net a rebound

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