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Burns: 3 Things we learned from another shutout win over Dallas

Bryan Burns on a third-consecutive shutout for Vasilevskiy, Palat continuing to produce and the PK's streak

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL / TampaBayLightning.com

Safe to say, the Tampa Bay Lightning have hit their stride at the 20-game mark of the regular season.

The Lightning secured their fifth-consecutive victory after shutting out the Dallas Stars 2-0 at American Airlines Center Tuesday night, the Bolts recording their second-straight shutout (both against the Stars) and third shutout over the last four games.

On their five-game win streak, the Lightning have outscored the opposition a combined 17-3. They've connected on 29.4 percent of their power-play opportunities over that stretch and have killed 94.7 percent of opponent power plays.

With their latest surge, the Lightning have positioned themselves atop the Central Division standings, leading the Central on point percentage while tied with Carolina on points (31).

Through 20 games, the Lightning, at 15-4-1, are off to their second-best start in franchise history. Only the 2017-18 squad registered more points through 20 games (32 pts., 15-3-2). Even the 2018-19 team that tied the National Hockey League record for wins in a season (62) wasn't this good through 20 games, going 14-5-1 (29 pts.).

Tampa Bay will try to extend the win streak to six games, which would match a season long for consecutive victories, with a win in Chicago Thursday as they continue on their season-long six-game road trip.

Video: TBL@DAL: Vasilevskiy shuts out Stars again

1. VASY ON ANOTHER LEVEL
The Tampa Bay Lightning have maintained over the years they feel they have the best goalie in the world manning their net.

But right now, Andrei Vasilevskiy is playing at a level even he hasn't seen before.

Vasilevskiy recorded his third-straight shutout Tuesday after stopping all 28 shots Dallas sent his way, becoming the first goalie in Lightning history to notch three shutouts in a row.

Vasilevskiy's shutout run goes all the way back to February 22 versus Carolina, stretching over 10 periods and 200:45 of game time. His shutout streak is the longest of his career and second longest in Lightning history.

Only John Grahame (202:46 from Jan. 17-29, 2006) has a longer shutout run, but Vasilevskiy only needs to go another couple of minutes without surrendering a goal to topple that record too.

"He's playing unreal, and it's fun to play in front of him," Lightning forward Ondrej Palat said.
Vasilevskiy has blanked Dallas in both meetings this season and three-consecutive games going back to Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Vasilevskiy recording his first career postseason shutout in the Cup-clinching win.

Vasilevskiy's shutout run is the longest this season in the NHL. He ranks tied for first in the League for shutouts (3) with Marc-Andre Fleury, John Gibson and Semyon Varlamov.
"He's the best goalie in the league right now," Tampa Bay forward Blake Coleman said. "There's a ton of confidence in front of him. We know he's going to give us a chance to win every night."

Vasilevskiy has led the NHL or finished tied for the League lead for goalie wins each of the last three seasons. He continues to pace the League for wins this season too with 13, two more than his nearest competitor.

Vasilevskiy's numbers are as good as he's ever put up too. He's fourth in the NHL right now for goals-against average at 1.65 and fifth with a .942 save percentage.

The Lightning are reaping the benefits currently of one of the hottest, if not the hottest stretch of Vasilevskiy's career.

"Talk about somebody that's in a groove, he is most certainly in one," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "Been around him for quite some time now, you can just see the confidence builds in him. Probably the thing that's grown in him the most is the way he can calm himself during a game. It takes reps to do that, and he came into some huge situations at such a young time in his career, playing in a Stanley Cup Final. Just to watch his growth, it's been just awesome to see. Got to take advantage when he's in a groove like this, and we are."

Video: TBL@DAL: Palat fires one-timer for PPG in 1st

2. THE OTHER ONDREJ
Guys named Ondrej, whatever variation of spelling behind used, are having the most impact on the Lightning right now.

Ondrej Palat scored his sixth power-play goal of the season Tuesday, cranking a one-timer from the right circle past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin at 7:29 of the first period to provide the Lightning with the only offense they'd need. Palat paces the Lightning for power-play goals and ranks tied for fourth in the NHL in that category. He's scored a power-play goal in back-to-back games.

Earlier Tuesday during his media availability, Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern said he likes Palat in the right circle on the power play because it gives the team a one-timer option from that side. Earlier this season, Palat played the bumper position or down along the goal line on the power play with the right-handed shot of Brayden Point in the right circle. But the left-handed Palat gives the Lightning a one-timer option in the right circle, something the Lightning felt they were missing, prompting Halpern to make the switch.

On Tuesday, Victor Hedman fed Palat the puck in his wheelhouse, and Palat blasted a one-timer past Khudobin at the near post for an early 1-0 Lightning lead.

"He works at it," Cooper said. "We've asked him to do a lot of different things, especially with Kuch out of the lineup. Do we expect the one-timer to go in all the time? No, but you've still got to be a threat. The more they go in for him, the more the defenses have to play to him. But, yeah, all the guys on the bench are happy for him too because he's scoring goals probably a little unconventional for him."

Palat netted his second-consecutive game-winning goal and now has three on the season, most on the Lightning. He also scored the first goal of a game for the sixth time this season, the most first goals in the NHL.

Palat often gets overshadowed by his flashier linemates, but there might not be a forward playing better on the Lightning right now than the Czech Republic native.

"The one thing about Pally, if you remember back to 2015, the Triplets Line, he was kind of the guy that wasn't really noticed, he was like the third player on the line," Cooper said. "But if you asked the players he was almost the guy that drove the line. And then fast forward to this past playoffs, were Kuch and Pointer phenomenal? There's no doubt. But I don't know if it works without Palat there. He's always, always showed up in big moments at big times for us."

 Video: Vasilevskiy, Lightning shut out Stars, 2-0

3. PENALTY KILL CONTINUES TO ROLL
A Lightning penalty kill that at one time this season was among the bottom units in the NHL has hit its stride and now ranks as the League's best.

Tampa Bay went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill Tuesday, pushing its consecutive kill streak to 17 in a row going back to February 22. The Lightning penalty kill came into Tuesday's contest ranked second in the NHL for kill percentage.

It's now first with an 88.6 percent kill rate, passing Colorado Tuesday night.

"They're just warriors on the ice," Palat said of the penalty killers. "They're blocking shots. They're making the right plays. And they're working really hard. It's great to see and it's helped us win."

The penalty kill was needed against Dallas. With the Lightning clinging to a 1-0 lead, the penalty kill not only didn't allow the Stars to score the game-tying goal, it also prevented them from generating any kind of momentum with the man-advantage.

The Stars' inability to connect on the power play fed into their inability to penetrate the Lightning defense.

"The D has been great, goaltending's been great, can't have a great kill without all five guys doing their part," Coleman said.

The Lightning have now gone four-consecutive games now without surrendering a power-play goal to their opponent. Combined with the power-play prowess the team has been displaying of late, and the Lightning can confidently go into any game this season and expect to win the special teams battle, which always goes a long way in determining who comes out on top in a contest.

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