Tampa Bay closed out February 6-4-2 with a thorough 4-0 beating of the visiting Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena.
After four days off, the Lightning found themselves trailing Montreal by five points in the Atlantic Division standings entering the Chicago game, but the Bolts chipped into the Canadiens’ lead and are currently tied for third with the New York Rangers (82) in the Eastern Conference behind Montreal (85) and the New York Islanders (84).
What stood out among Friday night’s many positives?
The three biggies, in no particular order:
Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop has been overshadowed a bit this season by a potent Lightning offense that leads the NHL in goals per game and total goals. But Big Ben has somewhat quietly put up 31 wins in 2014-15 and, over the final 19 games, will challenge the Lightning franchise record of 37 he set during his breakout year a season ago.
With the February schedule completed and the regular season stretch run in full view, Bishop has been absolutely dominant of late and is playing the best he has all year. Bishop has won his last four starts by giving up two goals or less in each, and his save percentage during that stretch is .955. Three of those victories came on the road; one in San Jose where the Lightning hadn’t won since 2003 and another against Pacific Division leader Anaheim.
On Friday, Bishop blocked all 28 Chicago shots to earn his second shutout. On more than one occasion this season, Bishop has been close to a shutout before having it ruined by a late goal. Friday, his teammates were determined to keep the Blackhawks off the board.
“A few weeks ago, one hit me and went in and kind of ruined his shutout bid,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “I felt so terrible about it. He was joking with me, but he doesn’t care. He wants to win. He’s a competitor.”
Boyle saved Friday’s game puck and tried to give it to Bishop after the game, but the 28-year-old netminder wouldn’t take it. His focus remains on collecting Lightning victories, not personal achievements.
“He didn’t want it,” Boyle said. “I had to give it to (Lightning Media Relations Director Brian) Breseman.
2. DROUIN DISHES
Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin made a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy highlight reel pass on Friday to set up the Bolts’ opening goal.
With the puck down low behind the Blackhawks’ goal, Drouin collected a carom off the side of the net and sent a behind-the-back pass through the legs of Chicago’s Teuvo Teravainen and into the slot for Boyle to one-time into the goal.
“He made a pass very few players in this league can make, and it was nice to see (Boyle) bury that,” Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos said.
Drouin collected his 23rd assist of the season on the play. The 19-year-old ranks tied for third among NHL rookies for assists and is tied for seventh on a talent-laden Bolts roster.
Starting February 10 at Nashville, Drouin had seen his ice time dip below 10 minutes for the first time since November, the Lightning rookie failing to crack double-digit minutes in four of his last seven games. His production had decreased too with just one point in his last 10 games entering Friday.
But Drouin reminded everybody what kind of talent he possesses with one moment of pure magic.
“Jo has that ability,” Stamkos said. “It’s nice to see him get rewarded. I thought he’s played really hard and competed hard the last couple weeks. I know sometimes it’s tough going through that, but he’s stayed patient, he’s worked hard.”
3. TAMPA BAY CONTINUES TO WIN ON THE ROAD
The Lightning played their sixth road game in 13 days on Friday, improving to 4-2-0 on the current swing by winning in Chicago.
Well, not really, but the game sure felt like it was being played at the United Center with approximately 80-85 percent of the crowd wearing red and the random chants of “Let’s Go Hawks” drowning out the overwhelmed Lightning supporters in the building.
The high proportion of visiting fans led to a playoff-like atmosphere inside Amalie Arena. The building was buzzing before the opening puck drop, and the Bolts said they fed off that energy on the ice.
“You just want to shut (the Blackhawks fans) up really,” Boyle said. “I mean, that’s a storied franchise. Obviously, they are going to travel well. They’ve had a lot of success. They’re passionate, passionate fans, but we don’t want them cheering in our building that’s for sure. It gets exciting when they’re all pretty loud in the beginning, but our fans are loud too and we had a good time hearing them cheer more often than not.”
With about four minutes to go in the game and the Bolts up 4-0, a mass exodus of red made its way for the concourse tunnels, leaving only the Lightning fans to revel in the thorough domination of one of the NHL’s best.
“Hopefully, when these teams come into town the next couple of years, there’s not as many (opposing fans), but I think we’ve definitely gotten better over the years and definitely since I’ve been here,” Stamkos said.
“But, you know what, the atmosphere was great.”