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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a California sweep

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

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Recap: TBL 2, ANA 1

Lightning edge Ducks for sixth straight road win

J.T. Brown scored the go-ahead goal in the 3rd period to lead the Lightning past the Ducks, 2-1, for their sixth straight road win

  • 03:53 •

The California road swing is one of the most difficult in hockey for an East Coast team.

The trip is typically over a week long. The teams are big and strong and usually near the top of the Western Conference standings. And the venues are some of the toughest places to play in the League.

This Tampa Bay Lightning team, however, doesn't seem phased by circumstances that would overwhelm lesser teams.

Tampa Bay completed the three-game California sweep on Sunday, avenging one of its two regulation losses by defeating the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 at Honda Center. The Lightning dominated the first period and grabbed the game's opening goal midway through the second. Anaheim responded to level the score early in the third, but J.T. Brown answered 3:30 later, netting just the second game-winning goal of his career to send the Bolts to their fourth-straight victory.

The Lightning return home with 30 points, most in the NHL.         

"We've been on the road a week," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after the win. "We know we're going home after this. I was really impressed with the guys' focus trying to get this one tonight."

Anaheim provided the stiffest challenge for Tampa Bay on the West Coast trip, but the Bolts continue to find ways to win.

How did they do it on Sunday?

We'll examine the Lightning's 14th victory of the season in Three Things we learned from a California sweep.

Video: TBL@ANA: Namestnikov nets rebound for PPG

1. POWER PLAY STRIKES AGAIN

Tampa Bay's power play has been the best in the NHL over the last two seasons.

No other team in the League has scored more goals than the Lightning power play since the start of the 2016-17 season. Entering Sunday's game, they'd netted 81.

The Bolts' power play had scored a goal in 14 of 17 games going into Anaheim.

And once again, it was the high-powered special teams unit that sparked the Lightning's 2-1 victory in Anaheim.

After dominating the opening period but with nothing to show for it, Tampa Bay finally solved Ducks goalie John Gibson with the man advantage midway through the second period. On the scoring play, Nikita Kucherov fired a one-timer from the right circle that was initially blocked by Gibson. The save, however, brought him out of the net and the rebound settled into the slot, where Vladislav Namestnikov was lurking to poke the puck into the open goal.

Tampa Bay has now scored a power-play goal in four-straight games.

The Lightning didn't have an answer for Gibson through the first half of the game, despite peppering the goalie with wave after wave of quality scoring chances.

It took a power play for the Bolts to finally unlock Gibson's net and grab control of the game, much as that unit has done throughout the season.

 Video: Cooper on 2-1 win at Anaheim

2. THE QUIET ASSASSIN

Lightning left winger Vladislav Namestnikov is soft spoken and matter-of-fact during interviews and seems almost embarrassed to have the spotlight on him.

On the ice, however, Namestnikov has been making quite a bit of noise this season.

The 24-year-old Russian is the less heralded of the three-headed monster that is the Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov line, undoubtedly the best line in the NHL over the first month of the season.

But his importance to the line's success cannot be overstated.

Namestnikov does a lot of the dirty work to get the puck onto the stick of scorers Stamkos and Kucherov and is a big reason why both rank 1-2 for scoring in the NHL. He bangs down low to keep the puck alive. He's fifth on the Lightning for hits. He goes to the front of the net looking to poach rebounds and get tips on pucks.

And he's being rewarded on the scoresheet as well.

On Sunday, Namestnikov was lurking at the edge of the blue paint as Nikita Kucherov fired a one-timer from the right circle on a power play to provide the Lightning with the game's first goal.

Namestnikov netted four goals on the three-game California trip. He now has points in 14 of 18 games this season.

While Stamkos and Kucherov generate all the headlines, Namestnikov continues to quietly go about his business as the unsung hero of the Bolts' top line.

And he's perfectly fine with that.

 Video: TBL@ANA: Vasilevskiy closes the door on Silfverberg

3. GOALS AGAINST DROPPING

Tampa Bay's prolific offense has been the talk of the NHL through the first month of the season.

But the Bolts' defense has steadily climbed the League rankings ever since a disastrous opening weekend.

The Lightning are allowing just 2.5 goals per game, the fourth-best goals against average in the NHL currently.

On the California trip, Tampa Bay netted 12 goals. They also gave up just four, and that had Cooper more impressed than any other aspect of their three-game California sweep.

"If you want to win in this league, you've got to keep them out of your net," Cooper said. "We did that on this trip, and that's why we had success."
Part of the Bolts' improving defense can be attributed to the spectacular play of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who picked up his League-best 13th victory on Sunday. But the Bolts' blueliners have also gotten more comfortable with their pairings as the season progresses, and their continued improvement has made the Lightning an even more formidable opponent to try and defeat.

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