What is it about the Chicago Blackhawks that brings out the best in the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Well, other than that Stanley Cup Final a couple seasons ago.
Tampa Bay continued its recent regular season dominance over the Blackhawks, completing the two-game season sweep following a 4-2 victory over the Hawks Friday night at AMALIE Arena and earning its seventh win in a row over the Hawks.
The Lightning are 13-0-2 against Chicago since the start of the 2010-11 season. The Bolts have won eight in a row over the Blackhawks at home.
The Lightning did all of their damage Friday in the first period, the Bolts exploding for four goals in the first 15 minutes and then sitting on the lead over the final 45.
At times Friday, the Lightning looked unbeatable. At others, they were just okay.
We'll discuss further in Three Things from continuing the streak against the Blackhawks.
Video: CHI@TBL: Johnson beats Crawford in opening minute
1. NO MORE SLOW STARTS
You can finally put that slow start narrative to bed for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay scored 29 seconds into the game, Nikita Kucherov finding a wide-open Tyler Johnson in the slot, and Johnson burying the shot over Chicago goalie Corey Crawford's glove for a quick 1-0 Lightning lead.
Johnson made the score 2-0 at 7:15 of the opening period on a wonderful passing sequence between Kucherov, Brayden Point and Johnson. Point put the Bolts up 3-0 three minutes later after burying another brilliant feed from Kucherov.
Just over 10 minutes into the game, the Lightning were up by three goals and looked like they might score on every other shift.
"They kind of set the tone of the game for us," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of the Johnson, Point, Kucherov line.
Chicago got a goal back :55 seconds after Point's goal, but the Lightning re-established their three-goal lead soon after, Ryan Callahan getting on the board for his third goal of the season and a 4-1 Tampa Bay advantage. The four goals scored by the Lightning in the first matched a season high for goals in a period set previously on October 13 in the third period of a victory over Columbus.
With the Bolts scoring at will early, they were able to establish control of the game and navigate through some uneven play later in the game without breaking too much of a sweat.
"You're not chasing the game," Callahan said of getting in front early. "Obviously, it's a lot easier to play with the lead in this league. Teams are so talented it's hard to come back sometimes. You know, to get behind the eight ball kills your momentum at home when you don't score first, and it takes the crowd out of it pretty early. It's a lot easier when you score that first goal, and I think even at home it's more important just to get the crowd into it. It gets everyone going."
The early lead certainly got the Lightning going Friday night. And it kept them going all the way to the finish line.
Video: Cooper | Postgame TBL 4, CHI 2
2. PENALTY KILL GETS ON TRACK
In October, the Lightning owned the best penalty kill in the NHL, coming in at 93.2 percent for the month and killing 28-consecutive penalties to start the season to set a new franchise record.
The numbers in November, however, have been uglier.
In the season's second month, the Lightning are just 65.8 percent. That's next to last in the league, better only than Ottawa at 65.6 percent.
The penalty kill had given up a goal in seven of 11 November games entering the Chicago contest. Opponents had netted multiple power-play goals in five of those games.
But a more aggressive Lightning penalty kill took the ice against Chicago.
And it killed a pair of back-to-back penalties in a critical moment to seal the win.
With a little less than 12 minutes to go and the Lightning holding on to a 4-2 lead, the Blackhawks went on the power play after the Bolts were whistled for too many men. After the Lightning killed the bulk of that power play, Steven Stamkos went to the box for tripping, giving the Hawks nine seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage and another crack at getting a goal closer.
At times, the Lightning's penalty killers closed too aggressively and found themselves out of position. But they recovered quickly and scrambled to keep the puck away from the net. When the puck did get through, Louis Domingue was throwing his body all over the place to keep it from crossing the goal line.
"The boys weathered the storm, and that was obviously their biggest push of the game there," Cooper said. "Before the first 50 minutes, before we took those penalties, we hadn't really given them anything. We played well, it's just tough when you play short the whole time. When we broke down, Louis saved us, and it was great."
Tampa Bay finished 2-for-2 on the penalty kill Friday night, hopefully the jump start to more play like we saw in October with that unit.
Video: CHI@TBL: Domingue denies Kane twice
3. WEATHERING THE PUSHBACK
The Lightning didn't score after Callahan's goal roughly 15 minutes into the game gave them a 4-1 advantage.
Turns out, they didn't need to because the Bolts were prepared for Chicago's pushback and dealt with it appropriately.
Neither team was able to really do much in the second period - the Lightning had a couple great looks on an early power play but ultimately couldn't score -- until the Blackhawks started to get back into the game toward the latter half of the period.
With 1:11 remaining in the second, Jonathan Toews pounced on a rebound at the edge of the blue paint and shot past a sprawling Domingue to cut the Lightning lead to two goals.
Chicago had a chance to make a game of it. Surely another goal would have done the trick.
But the Lightning were sound in the defensive aspect of the game Friday. They didn't let the Blackhawks get cranking offensively and were able to disrupt enough to keep the quality scoring chances to a minimum.
Chicago never really threatened to get back in the game. Credit to the Lightning for keeping them down once they scored the early knockout.
"They're going to have a push back and we knew that going into that second period," Callahan said. "They had some momentum there, but I thought we controlled the momentum swings well. We expected that from them to push back there after that first period."
In addition to producing three of the Lightning's four goals, the Johnson-Point-Kucherov line was also tasked with shutting down Chicago's top line featuring Toews and Patrick Kane. For the most part, that trio effectively eliminated the Blackhawks' superstars from the game, save for that one rebound play Toews scored on.
"They've been playing really really well since they've been together and creating a lot of offense," Cooper said. "Extremely big test tonight to go against that big line they've got of world-class players and they did a great job."