The Carolina Hurricanes came into Tuesday's contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning intent on proving their hot start to the 2018-19 season was no fluke and they'd be a challenger to the Eastern Conference throne.
That may still be the case.
But following Tampa Bay's 4-2 win, the Lightning reminded the Canes why they're the defending regular season champs in the East.
Tyler Johnson recorded his fourth career regular season hat trick - and second in two seasons against Carolina -- and goalie Louis Domingue stopped 38-of-40 shots in a hard-fought victory for the Lightning.
Both teams traded blows through the first two periods, the score level 2-2 entering the second intermission, before the Lightning started to impose their will in the third, Yanni Gourde netting the game winner on the Bolts' lone power play at 7:02 of the final stanza and Johnson scoring a late empty-netter for his third goal of the evening.
Tampa Bay improved to 3-1-0 (6 points) and will close out its season-opening five-game home stand on Thursday when it hosts the Detroit Red Wings.
There was plenty to like about Tuesday's victory if you're a Lightning fan.
We'll break down the most satisfying elements in Three Things we learned from a win over Carolina.
Video: CAR@TBL: Johnson records fourth career hat trick
1. JOHNNY BE GOOD
Before going down with an upper-body injury, Tyler Johnson was arguably the Lightning's best player in training camp according to head coach Jon Cooper.
Safe to say, Johnson is back to his pre-injury level.
Johnson scored three of Tampa Bay's four goals in the 4-2 victory over Carolina and has recorded multiple points in his last two games to pull into the Lightning scoring lead (3 goals, 2 assists).
Johnson's skill was on full display on his second goal, which gave the Lightning their first lead at 6:07 of the second period. After Mikhail Sergachev forced a turnover at the blue line, J.T. Miller sent the puck ahead to Adam Erne, who backhanded a pass perfectly into Johnson's path.
Johnson knocked the pass down with his stick then split a pair of Hurricanes defenders, muscling through them and shaking off a hooking penalty from Lucas Wallmark to roof a shot over Petr Mrazek.
"We like him in the middle," Cooper said. "That's helped him. But if there's one thing about Johnny and the competitiveness and all that, that's taken for granted. He competes. But it's his skating. And when he's skating, really it's game changing for him. And he was definitely skating tonight, just bursting through holes, creating chances for himself. I know he had three, he probably could have had more just from the chances he was creating. His linemates were obviously helping him out, but boy that kid was flying tonight."
Johnson got his hat trick late when Carolina pulled Mrazek and slotted a shot into the open net
"I don't really think too much about hat tricks," Johnson said. "I'm more happy that we won that game. I was more pumped that Gourdo scored that third one than anything. I've been playing with some good players and had some good opportunities tonight and luckily they went in."
With his second goal, Johnson (113 career goals) moved past Brian Bradley and into eighth place among Tampa Bay's all-time goal scorers. If he continues playing at his current pace, pretty good chance Johnson will continue to leapfrog more Lightning greats on his way up the goal leaderboard.
Video: CAR@TBL: Johnson scores a SHG off Joseph's setup
2. SPECIAL TEAMS THE DIFFERENCE
At 5-on-5, the Lightning are as good as any team in the NHL.
If they can win the special teams battle each night too, look out.
The Lightning remain perfect on the penalty kill this season after thwarting Carolina on its four power-play attempts. The Bolts are the only team in the NHL that hasn't given up an opponent power-play goal and matched a franchise record for consecutive games without allowing a power-play goal to start a season.
Here's how good the Lightning penalty kill has been this season: Through four games, the penalty kill has netted two goals of their own without giving up one. Johnson scored the Bolts' opening goal and leveled the score 1-1 at 12:42 of the first period when Mathieu Joseph started a 2-on-1 shorthanded break, raced past the Hurricanes Justin Williams down the left wing and hooked a pass onto the back post for Johnson to one-time into the net.
"To get back to the room 1-1 is huge for us, especially on the PK, something we struggled with last year and we clearly made the right adjustments," Domingue said. "But there's always room for better and obviously in this league, teams are going to adjust to what you're going to do so we've got to keep getting better and working on that. I think the time we've put in at practice on special teams paid off tonight."
The Lightning only got one power-play opportunity Tuesday night, but they took full advantage, Yanni Gourde netting the game-winner after Ondrej Palat pounced on a flubbed Carolina clear attempt and dished to the slot for an open Gourde.
"We knew if we were going to get a power play, we had to earn it," Cooper said. "Whistles were few and far between. Cedric Paquette earned the penalty. He got on his horse and started skating and the guy had to hold him up and we earned it. And then the power play came through and delivered for us. And I thought once we scored that goal, then we began to push."
After going scoreless over the first two games, the Lightning power play has connected on 5-of-8 opportunities over the last two. The Bolts are the only team in the NHL to rank in the top six in both power-play and penalty-kill percentage.
Video: Domingue on his first win of the season
3. BEST GOALIE TANDEM IN THE LEAGUE?
Clearly, Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best netminders in the NHL coming off a record-setting season in which he finished as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
But with Louis Domingue backing up Vasilevskiy and putting together performances like his 38-save night against Carolina, the Lightning can stake their claim to having the best 1-2 goalie combination in the league.
Despite straining his neck playing basketball before the game, Domingue recovered to shut down one of the league's hottest attacks in his first action of the season. The Hurricanes have one of the most prolific offenses with a consistently large volume of shots. That didn't change Tuesday when they sent 40 pucks Domingue's way.
But even with not having seen game action for nearly three weeks since the next-to-last game of the preseason, Domingue showed no signs of rust in holding the Canes at bay.
"Louis was amazing tonight," Gourde said. "The way he plays the puck to help our defensemen make plays. He made a huge save on our penalty kill. That was very important for us. We know they were going to shoot a lot of pucks tonight, and they did that. But Louis was there and standing up. It was a very good game for him."
Cooper said after the game Andrei Vasilevskiy was on standby in case he needed to make an emergency start with Domingue dealing with a sore neck. Domingue, who is 8-3-1 since coming over to Tampa Bay last November from Arizona, powered through the pain and let Lightning fans know there will be no let down when Vasilevskiy is given a rest.