Tampa Bay saw its 10-game win streak snapped in New Jersey following a 3-1 loss to the Devils, one game away from setting a new franchise record for consecutive wins.
Still, the run was a lot of fun while it lasted.
And, hopefully the Lightning can start another win streak after rediscovering their commanding brand of hockey over the last month and a half.
A familiar face brought down the Lightning in Newark, former backup netminder Louis Domingue stopping 26 of 27 shots while playing both ends of a back-to-back set in which the Devils knocked off the NHL's top team in the Washington Capitals in Washington a night earlier before stopping the League's hottest team in the Lightning on Sunday.
The Bolts certainly had opportunities to extend their win streak. They missed the net on numerous chances. The Devils blocked a ton of shots to keep the NHL's top offense off balance. And Domingue was really good in a game that undoubtedly meant a lot to him.
"We've been playing some pretty good hockey," said Tyler Johnson, who scored Tampa Bay's lone goal in New Jersey and netted the 150th of his career to pull into a tie with Brad Richards for fifth-most goals in Lightning history. "Schedule hasn't been too kind to us, so for us to throw those together and play complete team games obviously says a lot about us. I think we've grown. Tonight wasn't our night, but now we turn the page and hopefully we can start all over."
Rather than focus on what went wrong in the loss to the Devils, let's instead examine what the Lightning did well to go on their 10-game run and why we think they have more win streaks left in them over the second half of the regular season.
Video: McElhinney on Bolts 3-1 loss
1. GREAT GOALTENDING
If Andrei Vasilevskiy was off his game over the first two months of the season, he returned to the level of play that earned him the franchise's first Vezina Trophy last season.
During the 10-game win streak, Vasilevskiy went a perfect 8-0-0 and shut out his last two opponents for his first two shutouts of the season and 19th and 20th of his career. Vasilevskiy has given up just 13 goals on 240 shots faced over the stretch, putting up a stellar .946 save percentage and 1.63 goals-against average.
Vasilevskiy also pulled into a tie with St. Louis' Jordan Binnington for most wins in the NHL (22) this season.
But, it's not just Vasilevskiy keeping pucks out of the net. Curtis McElhinney's performance as part of the Lightning's goaltending tandem can't be overlooked either. McElhinney started the second half of a back-to-back against Detroit on December 29 and stopped 19-of-20 shots to power the Lightning to a tight, 2-1 victory over the last-place Red Wings. He got the front half of a back-to-back January 4 at Ottawa and helped lead the Bolts to a 5-3 win in game No. 6 of the 10-game run.
McElhinney was in net Sunday in New Jersey when the Devils ended the Lightning's win streak, through no fault of the Bolts backup. McElhinney allowed two goals on 19 shots. New Jersey's game-winner came courtesy of a well-timed tip from the slot by Travis Zajac that McElhinney had no chance on. The tight defensive structure the Lightning played with throughout the 10-game streak was a bit off in New Jersey, and the Devils capitalized on their chances to end the Lightning's run.
Make no mistake, however, the Lightning's goaltending has been the best in the NHL since the start of December.
And that, more than anything, is what's allowed the Bolts to start collecting wins with regularity.
Video: Stamkos on Bolts win streak ending
2. A STINGY PENALTY KILL
The Lightning owned the third-worst penalty kill in the NHL over the first month of the season.
Since November 1, however, no penalty kill in the League has been better than Tampa Bay's 89 percent kill rate.
What was once a serious cause for concern has now become a stabilizing force for the Bolts.
During the 10-game win streak, the Lightning penalty kill was a driving factor behind the team's success. The Bolts allowed just three power-play goals to opponents over the run and never more than one in a game. The Lightning killed 91.7 percent of opponent power-play opportunities since the run started on December 23, the best penalty kill percentage in the NHL over that stretch.
Despite the loss Sunday in New Jersey, the penalty kill continued to stifle opposing power plays, going 4-for-4 against the Devils. The Lightning have killed off 19-consecutive power-play opportunities and haven't allowed a power-play goal in five-straight games.
Besides the obvious of giving up fewer goals which gives the team a better chance to win, the penalty kill has been supplying the Lightning with momentum they've used to take control of games. The Bolts have blocked a ton of shots on the penalty kill, and that sacrifice by the penalty killers is infectious throughout the team, everybody wanting to be the next-man-up to block a big shot and do what's necessary to win games.
No unit has exemplified the Lightning's will to win of late more than the penalty kill. The work that group has done has been a catalyst for Tampa Bay's return to the top of the NHL standings.
Video: Cooper on Bolts 3-1 loss to Devils
3. DEFENSE-FIRST MENTALITY
There's been an underlying theme to Tampa Bay's play during the 10-game win streak:
Protect the net
The Lightning have been playing well defensively as a collective unit - from the forwards coming back to help out in the zone to the defensemen making smart plays and getting the puck out of its own end rapidly - really since the start of December.
Tampa Bay didn't necessarily get rewarded for this concerted defensive effort, at least not at first. At the beginning of December, it seemed the Lightning would give up just two, three, four good scoring chances a game, and all of them would end up in the back of their net, leading to another loss.
Eventually, the Lightning figured, those results would go their way.
The 10-game win streak was a result of sticking to the plan and having confidence their style of play would produce victories.
The Lightning have been disciplined in their defensive structure. They haven't allowed teams to get to the middle of the ice, forcing them to line up shots from the outside. The Bolts have been pesky in getting in shooting lanes to block shots and clean up rebounds on those long-range chances. They've accounted for all opposing skaters in their own end, making sure nobody roams free in a high-danger area. The forwards and defensemen have worked in concert with one another in an effort to get the puck out of the defensive zone quickly so they can control the puck in the offensive zone and wear teams down with their puck possession.
That effort has translated on the scoreboard too.
Since starting their win streak on December 23, the Lightning have allowed just 1.82 goals per game, second fewest in the NHL. The Bolts were in the bottom half of the League in mid-November for goals allowed. Now, they've climbed all the ninth.
Tampa Bay's responsible defensive play combined with superb goaltending from its two netminders proved to be a winning combination over the last three weeks.
"Ten in a row is tough to do," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "Take a lot of pride in the fact that we went on that run. We talked about going on a run before that, that we needed an extended point streak. To get 10 wins in a row is pretty great. We put ourselves back in a position where we knew we could be at this time of the year. We've got three games before the break that we want to get back on track here. We just can't be satisfied when you go on a run like that. We'll look to get back home and collect some more points here before the break."