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Burns: 3 Things we learned from beating Edmonton

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts' 5-2 win over the Oilers on Tuesday night

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

For at least a day anyway, the Tampa Bay Lightning are at the top of the National Hockey League standings.

With Nashville idle on Tuesday, the Lightning leapfrogged the Predators and moved into first place following a 5-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers at AMALIE Arena. Nashville plays again Wednesday, so Tampa Bay's stay at the top might be short lived.

But the way the Lightning are playing currently, this probably won't be the last time they see first place.

The Bolts had everything cooking against Edmonton. Perennial All-Stars Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos each had three points on the night. Kucherov scored a pair of goals for his second multi-goal game of the season.

Brayden Point continued his torrid scoring pace with a goal and an assist, and Yanni Gourde netted the game-winner at 13:19 of the third period for his second-straight game-winning goal and team-leading fourth of the season.

And, of course, Andrei Vasilevskiy was stellar again in net for the Lightning, turning aside 33 of the 35 shots he faced to pick up his fifth win in his last six starts.

"Probably our best player since the beginning of the year," Gourde said of Vasilevskiy.

The Lightning won their third game in a row after defeating Edmonton.

We'll break down 3 Things that led to another victory.

Video: Cooper | Postgame TBL 5, EDM 2

1. STARTING WITH A LEAD
Coming into the Edmonton game, the Lightning had given up the opening goal the previous five contests.

Falling behind wasn't an immediate death sentence for the Bolts. After all, they rallied to win three of those five games. But constantly chasing the game isn't a strategy for sustained success, and the Lightning made a concerted effort to start on time against Edmonton.

Steven Stamkos broke the dubious string for the Lightning at 4:40 of the opening period when he and Nikita Kucherov worked a nice back-and-forth passing sequence through the offensive zone for Stamkos to one-time past Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen and give the Lightning a 1-0 lead.

The Bolts added to that advantage before the end of the first, Brayden Point cleaning up a rebound with just :26 seconds remaining in the period after the Oilers had gained a bit of footing in the game for a 2-0 lead heading into the locker room.

"We wanted to get out to a good start because the past few games we kind of had slow starts," Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said. "It was really good to finally get that first goal and from that moment on I think we kept grinding and kept playing very (well) and I think the only time we kind of got in trouble was when we turned the puck over in the neutral zone and the O zone. That first goal gave us a boost."

The Oilers were playing the second half of a tough back-to-back in Tampa having fallen 4-2 to the Washington Capitals the previous night. Playing the two Eastern Conference finalists on consecutive nights while also dealing with the travel between Washington and Tampa was an advantage for the Lightning.

By scoring first, they were able to capitalize on their fresh legs and keep a tired Edmonton team down.

"I haven't really been worried about our team in that sense, it's just tough when you're chasing the game all the time," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of his team giving up the opening goal of late. "Granted, there is a lot of time left, but it's much easier playing with the lead than playing without it so it's good to score first, especially against a team that had a really tough back-to-back."

Video: EDM@TBL: Vasilevskiy makes amazing diving save 

2. VASY FOR VEZINA
It might be a little soon to start the Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Vezina trophy talk, but the way the Lightning goalie is performing currently, he'll certainly be in the conversation at season's end should his play continue.

Vasilevskiy won his league-leading eighth game of the season after making all but two saves against Edmonton. Vasilevskiy has won five of his last six starts and has allowed two goals or fewer in eight of his 11 starts this season.

One play more than any other, however, underscores just how valuable Vasilevskiy was to the Lightning Tuesday night and, really, all season.

With Tampa Bay up 1-0 but Edmonton starting to generate some momentum, Connor McDavid carried the puck into the offensive zone, stepped around Stralman to split a pair of Bolts then unleashed a backhanded pass across the ice and into the left circle for a wide-open Ty Rattie.

Rattie had a completely empty net to shoot at after McDavid's magnificent move drew Vasilevskiy well out of goal.

Vasilevskiy, however, is never out of a play no matter how far out of position he is. The 24 year old was able to dive back across the goal mouth, get a small piece of the puck with his glove and the rest of it with his facemask to rob a goal from Rattie, who could only put his hands on his head in disbelief.

"I thought I had that," Rattie said. "I thought I had the whole net. It was rolling a bit, but the one spot he covers it hits, and when you're a good goalie stuff like that is going to happen."

After the save, the appreciative AMALIE Arena crowd chanted "Vasy, Vasy, Vasy."

Loudly

"He's been outstanding for us this whole year, and the work he puts in at practices and during the game is just unbelievable," Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov said. "It's fun to watch. I'm happy to be with him on the same team."

Vasilevskiy's miraculous save changed the complexion of the game. If Edmonton is able to convert, suddenly the momentum is squarely in their favor. But more than anything, it's the timely saves that makes Vasilevskiy so valuable to the Bolts.

"Their goaltender was tremendous," Edmonton head coach Todd McLellan said. "He made numerous saves on the power play. That's the best our power play has looked, and we moved the puck around. Sometimes you run into a hot goaltender. You have to tip your hat to the saves he made, because if we do get back into it there maybe it's a different game"

Video: EDM@TBL: Point finds rebound and slams it home 

3. CONTRIBUTIONS FROM EVERYONE
The Lightning have been scoring at a pretty good pace through the early part of the season. But their typical top goal scorers, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, haven't gotten off to the high standard they've established for themselves previously.

Entering the Edmonton game, Kucherov had five goals on the season. Stamkos had four.

Brayden Point, meanwhile, nearly had as many as those two combined with a team-best eight goals. Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson and J.T. Miller all had as many goals as Stamkos.

Against the Oilers though, the top line resembled the group that ran roughshod through the NHL last season. The chemistry between Kucherov and Stamkos was evident on the game's first goal, the two passing back and forth to free up Stamkos on the right edge of goal for an open one-timer.

"We always just try to create room for each other out there, whether it's trying to two-on-one someone or give-or-go," Stamkos said. "Obviously, we've developed that chemistry, and it was nice to have a couple nice plays tonight and contribute to another win."

In the second period, it was Stamkos' turn to set up Kucherov, the two taking advantage of a 4-on-4 situation and Stamkos finding a wide-open Kucherov in the left circle.

Kucherov sniped a shot high over the right shoulder of Koskinen, a deadly strike that no goalie in the world is going to save, and the Bolts built their lead to 4-1 right before the second intermission.

"We just pass to each other, look for each other, get open for each other," Kucherov said. "That's important to this game, and that's what we're doing."

On a third-period power play, Kucherov threw a puck at net with Miller lurking in front that Koskinen couldn't find as it trickled underneath his body and over the goal line.

Kucherov and Stamkos each finished with three-point nights. If the Lightning can get offensive contributions from those two similar to what they put up a season ago, the Bolts attack might be as deadly as it's ever been.

That includes last season when the team scored a franchise record 290 goals.

"At the beginning of the season they didn't start as strong together as they are playing now," Cooper said. "We put the players in the positions where it's going to give ourselves team success, and sometimes they're together and sometimes they're not. Right now they're together and they're doing really well." 

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