The second back-to-back went much like the first: a win in game one followed by a loss in the second.
On Friday, the Lightning allowed Winnipeg to tie the game three separate times before finally putting the Jets away in overtime. A day later, the Bolts, backed by Kristers Gudlevskis’ 31-save effort in his first regular season NHL game in two seasons, took Chicago to overtime before Jonathan Toews scored 17 seconds into the extra frame to knock off Tampa Bay.
What can the Lightning take away from getting three of four points in this latest back-to-back set? We’ll examine the action in today’s 3 Things.
1. THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER
Everybody knows what Tampa Bay has in goaltender Ben Bishop, who this season, in just his 140th game in goal for the Lightning, set the Bolts’ all-time franchise record for wins with his 84th victory in a 2-1 win over Buffalo. Two games later, Bishop earned the 100th win of his career when the Lightning outlasted Winnipeg in overtime.
Last season, rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy announced his arrival and showed Lightning fans a glimpse of the future when he won his NHL debut 3-1 in Philadelphia and followed that up by making a Lightning-rookie-record 45 saves in a tough-luck loss to the New York Islanders. Vasilevskiy would go 7-5-1 and earn the victory in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final during a remarkable rookie season.
On Saturday, Kristers Gudlevskis officially threw his hat in the ring for Lightning goalie of the future consideration with a scintillating 31-save, regulation-shutout performance against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Gudlevskis was underwhelming at the end of his season in Syracuse last year and again at the start of this year’s training camp, but his start to 2015-16 has been anything but. Before being recalled to the Lightning on Saturday, Gudlevskis went 2-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average in two starts with the Crunch. Against the Blackhawks, Gudlevskis looked confident and comfortable in net versus the Cup holders. Gudlevskis routinely swallowed up shots and didn’t give up rebounds to Chicago skaters lurking around the net for second-chance opportunities. He turned away Patrick Kane on a breakaway late in the second period to keep the Hawks off the board. He routinely left Chicago shooters scratching their head, thinking, “Who is this kid?”
“I thought Gudlevskis was the best player on the ice for us tonight,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said postgame. “You have to commend the poor kid. He was fantastic out there.”
Vasilevskiy was cleared to resume practicing this week and will likely see his first action of 2015-16 in the near future. But with Gudlevskis’ performance on Saturday, the Lightning now have the confidence to throw one of three options in net and feel good about their chances of winning.
2. THE SNAKEBITTEN TYLER JOHNSON
Last season, Lightning center Tyler Johnson was second on the Bolts for goals with 29 during the regular season. In the postseason, he was, somehow, even better and led the NHL for goals with 13 in 26 games.
Nine games into the 2015-16 season, however, Johnson has yet to score.
Not for a lack of chances, though.
Two nights ago in Winnipeg, Johnson got a wide-open look in front of the net after a turnover but Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec was able to make the stop. Near the end of the second period, Johnson had two more Grade A opportunities. Pavelec saved both of those too, Johnson banging his stick against the glass behind the goal in frustration.
In Chicago, Johnson was ready to raise his hands in celebration in the third period following a one-timer on a wide-open net, except Johnson’s shot clanged off the post and the game remained scoreless.
Johnson remains the only Lightning forward yet to score a goal this season.
Fear not, though Lightning fans. Johnson went through the same scoring drought at the beginning of last season too. After scoring in the season opener against Florida, Johnson went 11 games without a goal.
Then he scored four in his next three games and went on to have an All-Star season.
It would be worrisome if Johnson was being completely shut down, but he’s still getting prime scoring chances.
Eventually, they’ll start going in the back of the net.
3. TOUGHEST ROADIE OF THE SEASON?
The Lightning are currently on a season-long-tying four-game road trip through the Central Division, playing four teams that qualified for the postseason last season, including the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
The current road trip is, arguably, the most difficult of the season for the Lightning, a four-game stretch that Cooper said would be a “really big test” and provide a clearer look at what type of team Tampa Bay would have this year.
So far, so good for the Bolts.
The Lightning have one victory and two overtime/shootout losses on the current trip, but they’ve picked up four of a possible six points and have played well in each game.
Sure, losing three separate one-goal leads in Nashville is troublesome. And the Lightning’s inability to score in Chicago is a frustrating carryover from last season’s Cup Final.
But still, four points out of six is a result Cooper would have gladly taken before embarking on the difficult journey.
“We’re on a pretty tough road trip here going through the Central Division, and we’ve pointed in every game,” Cooper said following the 1-0 overtime loss in Chicago. “We’ll take that as a positive.”
The Lightning have one more game left: Tuesday in St. Louis. Get a win and two points in the Gateway to the West, and you’d have to call the trip a major success.