Before embarking on a three-games-in-five-days road trip through California, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said his team was about to face its strongest test yet playing three physical, powerful Western Conference squads.
So far, Cooper's troops have risen to the challenge.
Tampa Bay opened the West Coast swing on Wednesday with a commanding 5-1 victory over a San Jose Sharks team riding a four-game winning streak. A day later, the Bolts were even more impressive in shutting down the second-best team in the Western Conference points-wise, the Los Angeles Kings, 5-2 while playing the second half of a back-to-back.
Tampa Bay has collected 28 of a possible 34 points to start 2017-18.
The Lightning will go for win No. 14 when they close out the road trip against the Ducks in Anaheim.
We'll take a look at Three Things from an impressive couple of days for the red-hot Lightning.
Video: TBL@LAK: Budaj denies Kopitar with incredible save
1. BUDAJ SPARKS ONSLAUGHT
The Lightning scored four goals in a span of 2:02 in the opening period, the fastest four goals the Bolts have scored in franchise history according to the Elias Sports Bureau, a full minute better than the previous record (3:02) set Oct. 28, 2002 in a 6-1 win at Florida.
But the scoring explosion was set up by, of all things, a timely save from goaltender Peter Budaj.
With no score in the first, Alex Iafallo, a former Lightning Development Camp invitee, took the puck with speed behind the goal and spotted Los Angeles' leading scorer Anze Kopitar skating down the slot unchecked. Iafallo wraped around and fired in front of the net for Kopitar to one-time on the back post.
Except, Budaj, playing against his former team, saw Kopitar streaking toward goal and slid over in time to make the save with his blocker.
"That's a big-time shot by a big-time player," Cooper said following the game in L.A. "I don't know, maybe (Budaj) had a little inside information from last year."
Video: TBL@LAK: Lightning score four goals in 2:02Less than 10 seconds later, Steven Stamkos took control of the puck and fired ahead to a wide-open Nikita Kucherov, who got behind the Kings' defense. Kucherov skated in on the breakaway and beat L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick for his League-leading 16th goal of the season.
Just 34 seconds later, Dan Girardi fed Alex Killorn in front, and Killorn redirected the puck past Quick to make it 2-0. Another 34 seconds, another goal, this time Victor Hedman skating free to the top of the right circle and sniping a shot over the blocker of Quick. Los Angeles challenged to see if the goal was offside, it wasn't and Stamkos converted the ensuing power play to make it 4-0 before L.A. even knew what hit them.
Hard to tell how much different the outcome of Thursday's game would have been were Budaj a step slow getting over to cover Kopitar's one-timer.
Cooper's glad he doesn't have to find out.
"You could see their guys are up on the bench on the shot and then down after the (Kucherov) breakaway," Cooper said of the Kings' bench. "…Tough to come back after that."
Video: Cooper on 5-2 win over the Kings
2. PENALTY KILL STREAK LIVES ON
Tampa Bay's proficiency on the power play has been well-documented. Over the last two seasons, no other team has scored more power-play goals than the Lightning, and they added to that total with Steven Stamkos' sixth power-play tally of the season on Thursday in L.A.
But the Bolts' penalty kill has gone a bit unnoticed so far this season, and it's time to acknowledge the job they've done, especially of late.
Since giving up a pair of power-play markers to the Ducks in a 4-1 loss on October 28, the Lightning PK hasn't been scored on since, going five-consecutive games without allowing a power-play goal. On the West Coast trip, the special teams unit has been spectacular, creating more scoring chances than they've allowed in going 5-for-5 on the PK through the two games. The Bolts have a host of rotating forwards at the top of the penalty kill, led by Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde, who harass the opposing power play into mistakes and turnovers and never let teams get comfortable in the offensive zone.
The result: the Lightning have been able to generate more momentum off opponent power plays than opponents have.
Video: TBL@LAK: Kucherov scores beauty on a breakaway
3. TWO DOMINANT PERIODS
Following the 5-1 win in San Jose on Wednesday, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said the second period in which the Bolts netted three goals was probably Tampa Bay's best period of the season.
It didn't take long, however, for another contender to emerge.
The Lightning faced a daunting challenge taking on the Kings, one of the top three teams points-wise in the NHL, and all-world goalie Jonathan Quick in the second half of a back-to-back.
No circumstances, it seems, phase this Lightning team though.
The Bolts got off to a great start in L.A, and, feeding off the energy of the Palat-Point-Gourde line, starting rolling about five minutes into the game. The Lightning put together a period very similar to the one they used a night earlier to pull away in San Jose. The Bolts dominated puck possession, made precise passes at the perfect time and created several Grade-A chances, capitalizing on four to stun the STAPLES Center crowd.
Tampa Bay came out with even more pace in the second period on Thursday and outshot the Kings 19-6. Only an unreal performance from Quick in the second kept the Lightning from building on their lead.
In facing two of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Lightning outscored the Sharks and Kings a combined 10-3, thanks, largely, to two of the most dominant periods the Bolts have played in recent memory.
"To be able to take four points with basically a little over 24 hours against two really good teams, as a coach, you're really happy," Cooper said. "But you've got to look at, yeah, we're scoring goals, but how we're playing defensively. In the end, we gave up three goals in two games against some really good teams. It's not as fun, but it makes you happy."