For anybody in Lightning land who thought it was time to panic with the team under .500 and struggling to maintain a playoff spot among the Eastern Conference contenders, the Bolts had a couple of answers Thursday and Saturday night.
Two days after stifling the NHL’s hottest team by beating the New York Rangers 2-1 on a late third period shorthanded goal to end the Rangers’ nine-game win streak, the Tampa Bay Lightning followed up with a convincing 5-0 blanking of the defending Western Conference finalist Anaheim Ducks at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning have won two in a row for the first time since starting the season with three-straight victories.
Let’s see if they can keep the positive momentum going into Wednesday’s matchup against the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings.
Three Things we learned from shooting down the ducks ahead.
1. FLAWLESS VICTORY
Is there any doubt Tampa Bay’s 5-0 romp of the Anaheim Ducks stands as its most complete victory of the season?
The Lightning had everything working on Saturday.
The defense continued to excel as it has much of the season, limiting the Ducks to a scant few quality scoring chances. The Bolts are now allowing just 2.18 goals per game, third-best in the NHL and closing in fast on second place Los Angeles (2.16 per game).
Ben Bishop was perfect for the first time this season, stopping all 30 Anaheim shots and earning his only shutout so far in 2015-16.
The Lightning offense produced its largest output since putting up six goals in the third game of the season at Boston and earned its highest margin of victory this season with the 5-0 blanking.
Leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos put two in the back of the net. Nikita Kucherov, second on the Bolts in goals, picked up his sixth of the season. Brian Boyle and Jonathan Marchessault added third period insurance tallies.
Special teams were stellar. The power play went 2-for-4 and put the nail in the Ducks’ coffin when Stamkos scored the Lightning’s third goal on a power play just 1:14 after giving the Bolts a 2-0 lead. Tampa Bay’s penalty kill did its job on the Ducks’ only power play.
Nothing, it seemed, could go wrong for the Lightning.
Could we have seen the turning point in Tampa Bay’s season? Was Thursday’s dramatic 2-1 win over the New York Rangers, when Valtteri Filppula scored a shorthanded goal with just over a minute to go after the Lightning had relinquished the lead, the catalyst for the Bolts getting back on track?
“You never know what a trigger point is,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “You sit there and think: a minute and a half left, tie game, we take a penalty and you’re trying your hardest to think the glass is still half full. Fil gets that big goal for us and now from one game, it somewhat jumpstarted us. I think scoring that goal, killing off the rest of the game and then doing what we did (Saturday), hopefully this bodes well for us in the coming weeks.”
2. THE INFESTATION
Raise your hand if, before the season started, you had Joel Vermin making an impact on the 2015-16 Lightning.
Hands buried in pockets
When Vermin was recalled from the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday to help offset the loss of forwards Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette, Jonathan Drouin and Ryan Callahan to injury, the move was a curious one to Lightning supporters.
Sure, Vermin was a worthy candidate to make his NHL debut. In 12 games with the Crunch before his callup, the 23-year-old Swiss national had scored three goals and recorded team highs for assists (7) and points (10). But more experienced forwards littered the Crunch roster, guys like Mike Angelidis, Jeff Tambellini and Tye McGinn who had plenty of NHL games between them and would be safer choices.
Instead, the Lightning decided to give Vermin a chance.
That decision has paid off considerably.
In his NHL debut, Vermin showed surprising confidence with the puck against the New York Rangers and created a couple decent scoring chances for himself.
On Saturday, Vermin continued to showcase his skill and was rewarded with his first NHL point (an assist) on the Lightning’s opening goal.
“I think like any player who comes to this level, it’s a different adaptation,” said forward Jonathan Marchessault, another Syracuse callup providing solid minutes for the Lightning. “He played even better than the first game, and he played really good in the first game. If he just keeps playing the same way and trying to improve every game, I think he’ll become a better player and be able to adapt at this level.”
Vermin was plus-one in 12:22 of ice time against Anaheim and even saw some time on the Lightning power play.
With the Bolts starting to get healthier, some of the callups will return to Syracuse. Angelidis, Mike Blunden and Luke Witkowski were all reassigned to the Crunch Sunday morning.
Vermin, however, is making his case to stay with the big club.
3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BEN
Ben Bishop celebrated his 29th birthday on Saturday.
His teammates got him the best gift imaginable for a goaltender:
Bishop continued his hot play of late by making all 30 saves for his first clean sheet of the season. He’s won three of his last four starts and has allowed one goal or less in four of his last five.
Against Anaheim, Bishop finally got the shutout he’s come so close to in a handful of starts this season.
“They hit two posts but didn’t go in,” Bishop said. “So it was nice personally to have a little puck luck, probably because it was my birthday.”
With the game well in hand after Boyle and Marchessault added third period insurance markers, the focus for the remainder of regulation was preserving the shutout Bishop deserved considering his performances of late.
“Bish…has been unbelievable since the beginning of the year,” Marchessault said. “You know when Bish is in, he’s going to perform. Not every team can say they have two goalies that can perform every night, but it’s fun to have a good duo like that. Obviously, we were really happy for him because it was on his birthday too.”