The Tampa Bay Lightning continue to pick off Atlantic Division opponents at Amalie Arena this season. The Florida Panthers were the latest victim, falling 4-3 after entering the third period with a 3-2 lead.
With 99 points, the Lightning are one back of the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic. The Canadiens (100 points) lead the NHL currently; the Bolts are tied for second with the New York Rangers, St Louis and Anaheim.
Tampa Bay won its 46th game and is playing some of its best hockey of the season with the postseason approaching. What did we learn about the team on Tuesday? Here are three thoughts from the Bolts fourth consecutive victory.
1. COMEBACK KIDS
For all the good things the Tampa Bay Lightning have done this season, one area where they’ve consistently fallen short is their ability to rally from a deficit in the final period.
Entering March, the Lightning were 1-17-2 when trailing after two.
Since the beginning of the month, however, the Bolts have found themselves behind on three separate occasions going into the third period.
They’ve come back to win two of those games.
Might the Bolts be turning a corner when it comes to their ability to rally?
“I think the biggest thing from now since the beginning of the year is we’re just kind of sticking to our system,” Lightning All-Star center Tyler Johnson said. “I thought the beginning of the year there were times we’d get down a goal or two and stop playing the way that we’re supposed to be playing. We start taking more chances. We start to kind of deviate from our game plan. When we do that, things don’t happen for you. I think we stick to our game for the most part the entire game, and that’s what we did in the third period and we were able to get back for it.”
The Lightning put a pathetic second period behind them against Florida and emerged from their locker room with a renewed focus in the third. They stuck to their system, got back to playing the style of hockey that has allowed them to win eight of their last 10 and overcame a desperate Panthers team fighting for its playoff life.
Nikita Kucherov tied the game 3-3 just 1:30 into the final period, and Ryan Callahan capped the comeback when he found himself wide open in front of the net late in the game.
“We knew it wasn’t good enough, our second period,” Callahan said. “They came at us hard. That’s a good hockey team and we can’t have lapses like that against a team like that. We weren’t happy with it. I thought we responded well in the third. Kuch comes up with a really big goal early on, ties it up. We were patient after that and eventually get one.”
Late in the season, the Lightning have developed an attitude that no deficit is insurmountable, an approach that should serve the team well come playoffs.
“You never want to fall behind, but I think we have the character in here to respond to those situations,” Callahan said. “We have the skill and the talent to do that.”
2. SETTING THE BAR HIGH
The Lightning haven’t been content just setting new records during a highly-successful 2014-15 regular season.
They’re destroying the old marks.
Coming into the season, no Lightning team had won more than 25 games at home.
The 2014-15 team has 30 wins at Amalie Arena with three more to go.
Three separate times, including the Stanley Cup-winning season in 2003-04, Tampa Bay has reached 46 wins during the regular season.
On Tuesday, the 2014-15 Bolts became the fourth team to hit No. 46. With eight games left in the regular season, they’ll likely have the record all to themselves in a few days.
Goaltender Ben Bishop is one victory away from tying the franchise record for wins in a season (37) he set a year ago.
And the Bolts’ 12-game win in regulation streak against Atlantic opponents is a divisional domination not seen since the 1984-85 Philadelphia Flyers won 13 in a row versus the Patrick Division.
Make no mistake: these Bolts are special.
3. DIFFICULT DECISION AWAITS COOPER
Lightning forward Cedric Paquette is close to returning to the lineup following an upper-body injury that has kept him out of the last six games.
When Paquette gets back, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper faces a dilemma.
Paquette has been spectacular during his first full season in the NHL, the 21-year-old rookie scoring 12 goals, adding seven assists and providing the Bolts with a physical presence along the front line.
In his absence, Vladislav Namestnikov, who was recalled from Syracuse on an emergency basis on March 4, has impressed. In nine games since rejoining the team, the AHL All-Star Namestnikov has scored three goals, collected five points and participated in his first NHL fight.
J.T. Brown has seen his playing time increase with the recent rash of injuries, and the third-year forward has run with the opportunity, scoring a goal against Boston on Sunday and tallying three points in his last two games. Brown is playing his best hockey of the season currently.
When asked about the upcoming decision of who to play once Paquette returns, Cooper said it’s more important that the team get healthy.
“It’s getting to this time of year, we need everybody to be ready to play,” Cooper said. “Guys know they’re going to have to sit out. We’ve got to have everybody hitting on all cylinders; not even worried about who’s in, who’s out. It’s about getting guys healthy and then we can make that decision.”