Through 22 games against divisional opponents, Tampa Bay has gotten points out of 19. The Lightning are 16-3-3 versus the Atlantic with eight of the final 10 games of the season coming against the division.
The one team the Bolts haven’t fared well against, Boston, awaits Sunday. But, for now, let’s enjoy Friday’s 3-1 take down of the Red Wings, a victory that gave the Lightning an eight-point cushion over their closest chaser in the division standings.
Three things from 3-0-0 over Detroit:
1. BROWN, BOYLE, MORROW SPURRED THE THIRD
Lightning rookie Jonathan Drouin began Friday’s game on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow, but in the second period, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper tinkered with the line combinations, moving Drouin up to the top line and sliding J.T. Brown down from the third line to his typical spot alongside Boyle and Morrow.
As the third period began with the score deadlocked 1-1, the Brown-Boyle-Morrow line put Detroit on its heels from the outset as the Lightning overwhelmed the Red Wings over the final 20 minutes. Boyle won the third period faceoff and the puck was dumped into the Detroit zone, where it stayed for over a minute. The trio pressured Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard throughout, saved the puck from exiting the zone a couple times and continued to wear down a tired Red Wings team playing the second game of a back-to-back set.
With nearly 10 minutes gone in the final period, Detroit still hadn’t registered a shot on goal, and, at 10:31, Alex Killorn scored the game-winner, skating between the circles and lifting Victor Hedman’s pass over the glove of Howard.
“I think it all started with that first shift with Brownie, Boiler and Mo,” Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “They set the tone for the whole period with that shift. Give them credit, we were able to establish some pressure after that, and obviously we carried it through.”
The Brown-Boyle-Morrow line wasn’t on the ice when the Lightning scored the go-ahead goal, but their work earlier in the period and as the third progressed allowed the Bolts to break through.
“They were really good,” Cooper said. “They earned their ice tonight.”
2. HEDMAN HEADS THE CHARGE
Before breaking his finger during the fifth game of the season, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman had established himself as one of the premier offensive defensemen in the NHL, a 200-foot blue liner who could shut down the opposition’s attack while jumping into the rush on the other end and produce.
Through the first four games, Hedman led all Lightning skaters with seven points, including goals in each of the first three.
But after missing over a month due to injury, Hedman wasn’t the same offensive threat in his return. Through his next 27 games, Hedman amassed just 15 points.
Steadily, though, Hedman is rounding back into the form he displayed at the beginning of the season. Over his last 20, Hedman has points in 12 (15 total).
Hedman assisted on two goals against Detroit to record back-to-back, multi-point nights for only the second time this season. His helper on Alex Killorn’s game-winner was a perfect example of what the Swedish defenseman can add to the Lightning offense.
Drouin led a rush, weaving his way into the Detroit zone. Hedman jumped into the charge and used all of his 6-foot-6 frame to latch onto Drouin’s drop pass. Spotting Killorn skating free between the circles, Hedman slid the puck to the middle, and Killorn fired past Howard.
“To have a rare combination of size and his ability to skate, it’s pretty amazing,” Stamkos said. “When he’s playing like that, I think everyone sees that, and he pushes us and he leads that way. When he’s jumping in the play, when he’s getting physical, when he’s in your face, he does it all and obviously came through with a big game tonight.”
Cooper called Hedman the best player on the ice Friday night.
“I thought Hedman was outstanding,” Cooper said. “He played the full 200 feet. He was moving. He was skating.”
A handful of Bolts eclipsed milestones in the 3-1 victory over Detroit.
Ben Bishop won his 35th game. Last season, Bishop won 37, establishing a new Lightning franchise record for most victories in a single season by a goaltender.
Prior to these last two years, Bishop had never won more than 11 games in a single season.
Anton Stralman scored his seventh goal, a career season high for the defenseman. Previously, Stralman notched six in 2009-10 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but after moving to the New York Rangers, he packed away his offensive game and concentrated mainly on his defensive responsibilities.
He scored just seven times in three seasons with the Rangers.
Stralman tallied his seventh of 2014-15 by charging toward the back post while Hedman shot from just inside the blue line along the left boards. Stralman pushed the rebound into the open net.
“(Cooper’s) obviously very encouraging with the offensive play and wants a lot of movement, especially in the offensive zone, and that’s kind of the way I grew up, not just being stationary on the point or around the blue line,” Stralman said. “Most of my goals I’ve scored this year is from down below the hash marks. You have to kind of pick your spots, though, you can’t just go down every time.”
Stamkos recorded goal No. 40 of the season by outhustling Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall to a loose puck in the Red Wings’ zone with the goal empty.
“I think he’s pretty good in those situations at reading when he could go and when he couldn’t,” Cooper said. “I think some of their defensemen had been out there a while. We were kind of rolling lines down the stretch. I’m sure when the net’s empty, he probably had a little sense he could catch Kronwall there and that was, he wants to win the game and that was going to win the game and that was a really good effort by him.”
Stamkos has scored 40 goals in four of his seven seasons in the NHL and for the first time since 2011-12 following two shortened seasons (2012-13 lockout; 2013-14 injury).