The Lightning were coming off a late-game collapse in Washington D.C., where they held a 3-0 lead before allowing the Capitals to score five unanswered goals -- three on the power play -- in a 5-3 loss.
How the Lightning would respond to the letdown was the question on everyone’s mind.
The Bolts answered those doubts in emphatic fashion.
Tampa Bay built a 3-1 lead and added two empty-net goals 13 seconds apart to dispatch the Senators 5-2 at Amalie Arena and further close the gap between itself and the rest of the leaders in the Atlantic Division. Steven Stamkos netted a pair of goals, Nikita Nesterov scored his first of the season, Alex Killorn added his first since Nov. 28 and Mike Angelidis scored just his second NHL goal to spearhead the victory.
The Lightning swept both home games against Ottawa, outscoring the Senators 9-3 in the process.
The Bolts have one more game – Tuesday vs. Vancouver – before the holiday break.
We’ll break down their latest win in today’s 3 Things.
1. THE CONSUMATE TEAMMATE
On his first shift of the game, Lightning center Brian Boyle took a hard hit around the shoulders and dangerously close to the head from Mark Borowiecki, the impact causing the back of his head to hit the glass and his face to smack the ice on his way down.
Boyle remained down for some time. The Lightning, who were already without seven forwards to injury and playing an 11 forward/7 defensemen alignment, could ill-afford to lose another.
Braydon Coburn took exception to the hit and stood up for his injured teammate. Coburn went after Borowiecki, dropping the gloves and landing a few good right hands before Borowiecki fell to the ice.
Sunday’s fight wasn’t the first for Coburn in a Bolts jersey. Everybody remembers his brawl with Brandon Prust last season when the Montreal instigator ran Ben Bishop at the end of a 6-2 Lightning blowout win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Prust so frustrated by the score and the encounter he famously threw his elbow pad toward the Lightning bench on his way out of the game.
Coburn has thrown hands a couple times this season too sticking up for a teammate. Whenever an opponent takes liberties with a Lightning player, it seems Coburn is the first one to atone for the transgression.
“He’s been in the league a while,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s a veteran. He’s a pro. You love to have pros in your locker room, and that’s what he is…It’s not point night for him every single night, but he’s big, he’s strong, he skates, he defends well for us, he kills penalties for us. Everybody’s got their different roles, and that’s what he does for us. He does it well. He’s a good add for us.”
2. BACKUP BOLTS PRODUCING
The Lightning had seven players missing from their end-of-road-trip loss to Washington on Friday. Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Carle (flu) and forward Erik Condra (lower-body injury) returned to the lineup against Ottawa, but the Bolts lost two more players when forwards J.T. Brown and Yanni Gourde were announced as day-to-day with upper-body injuries and held out of the game versus the Senators.
The Lightning have been decimated by injuries of late.
The odd thing is, they’ve also been winning.
The Lightning have won three of their last four, six of their last nine and nine of their last 14.
And they’ve started to separate themselves from the bottom of the pack in the Atlantic Division while maintaining pace with the Atlantic leaders.
So how have the Bolts managed to string together wins with so many of their regulars missing?
The Syracuse Crunch
Each time the Lightning have asked for reinforcements from their AHL affiliate, a Crunch callup has delivered a better-than-expected performance.
Joel Vermin recorded his first NHL point – an assist – in his second NHL game and looked like a playmaker with the puck before he injured his hand blocking a shot in Columbus and will have to miss six to eight weeks.
Yanni Gourde produced an assist in his first game in the league before he too was injured.
On Sunday, two more Crunch regulars capitalized on their opportunity with the Lightning. Mike Angelidis scored his second career goal in the second period, which would turn out to be the game-winner. Mike Blunden set up the goal, charging to the net and putting a puck on goal that Angelidis was able to jab home.
Blunden has two points in his last three games with the Bolts.
“They played great,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “Again, a big goal for us tonight...That line [Blunden, Angelidis and Jonathan Marchessault] has played great. It’s kind of scary when you walk into the room after the game and there’s eight guys lined up that are injured. You’re hoping they come back, but at the same time, those guys that have stepped up and come in have been instrumental to our success the last couple of games. They’ve done what we’ve asked, and they’ve been great.”
3. INJURIES CONTINUE TO MOUNT
It’s almost comical the number of players falling victim to the injury bug sweeping the Lightning this season.
Or perhaps the laughter is just to hide the tears.
The Lightning got two players – Condra and Carle -- back on Sunday but lost two more before the game. And a third was forced to leave a couple of minutes into the contest.
During his pregame chat with media an hour-and-a-half before game time, Cooper announced J.T. Brown and Yanni Gourde had suffered upper-body injuries and were day-to-day. Neither of them played against Ottawa. During his first shift of the game, Boyle succumbed to Borowiecki’s hit and didn’t return. He too is listed as day-to-day.
“It’s just become the norm now,” Cooper said. “It’s really tough when you lose guys, we’re losing guys in the first shift of the game and we have to play short for 58 minutes.”
One positive is the Lightning have continued to play well and pick up victories despite the long list of players sitting the bench due to injury.
And more good news could come the Lightning’s way soon too. Cedric Paquette said he felt 100 percent following Monday’s practice and could be back as early as Tuesday. Jonathan Drouin is also close to getting back according to Cooper and could potentially play as well vs. Vancouver.