The results haven’t been all that encouraging for the Bolts.
On Saturday, a day after Stralman went down indefinitely, the Lightning played well but ultimately lost a battle for the top spot in the Atlantic Division 5-2 to the Florida Panthers, the five goals the Lightning allowed tying a season high for most given up in a game.
On Monday against Toronto – the last-place team in the NHL – the Bolts blanked the Maple Leafs but were unconvincing in doing so. The Leafs managed to put 34 shots on goal, and the number of high-quality chances approached double digits.
Luckily for the Lightning, they have Ben Bishop in goal, and the 29-year-old made every save to lead the Bolts to victory and push them closer toward securing a place in the postseason.
Tampa Bay’s magic number to make the playoffs is now seven following the 3-0 win over Toronto and Detroit holding on for a 3-2 win against Buffalo last night.
The Lightning could clinch a playoff spot as early as this weekend.
But they’ll have to play a lot better than they did Monday against Toronto to do so.
Breaking down a lethargic win over the Leafs in today’s 3 Things.
1 BISHOP’S BEST GAME OF THE SEASON?
Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop has played at a MVP-caliber level for the Lightning this season. Bishop set franchise records for wins and shutouts during 2015-16. He’s given up two or less goals in 38 of his 56 starts. Bishop’s .928 save percentage is second best in the NHL. His 2.02 goals-against average is also second in the league and would rank as the best GAA in Lightning history for a single season if the season were to end today.
His 33 wins are tied for sixth-most in the league.
Yet, among all those accomplishments, Bishop might not have played a better game all year than the performance he put on Monday against the Maple Leafs.
At least five times during the win, Bishop took a sure goal away from the Leafs. His early, miraculous stick save on Brad Boyes, when he dove across the crease and somehow got a piece of Boyes’ wide-open shot on the back post with a flailing swing of his stick, set the tone early for the kind of night Bishop would have.
“He was hot,” Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He was the difference maker tonight. We were lucky he stood on his head, and that’s what he’s been doing all year. He has been our best player throughout the whole season, so he showed that again tonight and we really needed that effort.”
In the second period, Bishop would rob Nazem Kadri from point blank range, Kadri firing a shot all alone in the slot that Bishop managed to get a piece of his glove on to push it to the post and away from goal. A few minutes later, Zach Hyman got loose in the slot and tried to backhand a shot over Bishop’s right leg.
Bishop was having none of it.
“It’s up there as one his best (performances) for sure,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “Some extremely high-quality saves, which in return is lack of defensive coverage for us. A lot of things we need to work on. We will take the win, especially at this point of the year when points are critical, but I can’t sit here and honestly say that was a great effort from us tonight. We have to thank Bish for sure for giving us a chance to win this game ultimately.”
The Lightning’s defensive zone coverage left a lot to be desired on Monday night. The Bolts gave up chance after chance. Bishop was there to meet every challenge, the Amalie Arena crowd showing its appreciation by chanting “Benny Bishop” after another miraculous save toward the end of the second period.
Bishop recorded his sixth shutout of the season – tied for second most in the NHL – and 16th as a member of the Bolts, adding to the franchise record for shutouts he set March 19 in Arizona.
Said Lightining head coach Jon Cooper sarcastically after the game: “There are team shutouts and there are goalie shutouts. Let’s take a guess which shutout that one was.”
2. OPPORTUNISTIC BOLTS
The shot totals from Monday’s game would suggest a lopsided affair at Amalie Arena.
Toronto recorded 34 shots on Ben Bishop’s goal. Tampa Bay matched a season low for shots, firing just 18 at Leafs rookie netminder Garret Sparks.
The 3-0 score isn’t a shock considering those numbers.
The fact the Lightning were the team with the three is.
Tampa Bay didn’t have a lot of opportunities to score in the regular-season finale against the Maple Leafs. But when the Lightning did get their chances, they took full advantage of them.
Recent AHL callup Mike Blunden benefitted from a beautiful behind-the-net feed into the slot by Erik Condra to score the game’s opening goal less than eight minutes into the contest and give the Bolts a bit of breathing room after Bishop’s net had been under siege for much of the early stages of the game. Blunden scored his third goal this season for the Bolts and second against his hometown Maple Leafs.
Ondrej Palat made it 2-0 Lightning immediately after exiting the penalty box, the Czech forward getting in front of goal and swatting a puck out of the air into the net, a tremendous display of hand-eye coordination while keeping his stick below the crossbar so the swing would be legal.
A quarter of the way through the second period, Victor Hedman put the game out of reach -- especially considering the way Bishop was playing -- after receiving a beautiful cross-ice backhanded pass from Steven Stamkos between the circles and firing a shot past Sparks for a 3-0 Lightning advantage.
The Bolts connected on 16.7 percent of their shots, netting three in 18 tries, a remarkably efficient performance.
“You can’t sit here and say, ‘Should we have won the Florida game?’” Cooper said. “You can’t say that at all. But, we had our chances to win that game. Their goalie played really well, and they capitalized on their chances.
“Tonight was the opposite.”
The Lightning had plenty of games early in the season when they played well enough to win or at least earn a point but came up empty handed.
The Bolts will certainly take one the other way.
3. PENALTY KILL DOES ITS THING
One of the more underrated aspects of the 2015-16 Tampa Bay Lightning has been the efficiency of the team’s penalty kill.
Coming into Monday’s contest, the Lightning ranked sixth in the NHL for penalty killing, their success rate when down a man at 83.8 percent. Although overshadowed by the performance of Bishop in net, the penalty kill continued to shine against Toronto. The Lightning were whistled for a season-high 30 penalty minutes, giving the Maple Leafs seven power plays.
The Bolts PK didn’t allow a goal on any of them.
“We got into a little bit of penalty trouble early on there, and they have a good power play and got some momentum off of that,” Bishop said. “One of the positives for us was the penalty kill. The whole night, the penalty kill did a great job, and we were able to score when we had some chances.”
Toronto got a power play 2:29 into the game when Erik Condra was sent to the penalty box for slashing and proceeded to put an all-out assault on Bishop’s goal. The Leafs got eight shots off during the two-minute advantage but couldn’t find a way to beat Bishop.
Once the penalty kill got that one bad performance out of its system early, it settled down and kept the Leafs from gaining any momentum in future power-play situations.
“We were working,” Cooper said. “Our penalty kill worked, and it seemed as soon as we were five-on-five, we weren’t working anymore. Bish was the guy tonight. Single-handedly he won the game for us. But, you have to have penalty killers out there battling. Anytime a team gets seven power plays, that’s almost a period. You have to play that the whole time shorthanded, you’ve got to be battling. I thought that was where our battle was the highest was when we were killing penalties.”