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Burns: 3 Things we learned from blanking the Panthers

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Up until Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s last road trip of the season had been a bit of a disaster.

Tampa Bay lost Jason Garrison, Andrej Sustr and Tyler Johnson to injury following a physical, 4-0 loss to Detroit to open the five-game set. Victor Hedman and Alex Killorn were sidelined later in the trip.

The Lightning clinched a playoff berth and swept the season series against the Canadiens with a 5-3 win in Montreal, but not much else went right.

A 4-0 shutout of Florida in the road-trip finale, however, salvaged some positive momentum heading into the final week of the season. Steven Stamkos scored two goals and Ben Bishop recorded the 12th shutout of his career to overwhelm a Florida team fighting for its playoff life.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from a satisfying win in Sunrise.

1. WHAT SCORING SLUMP?

Steven Stamkos entered Saturday’s game six points shy of 500 for his NHL career.

He nearly collected all six to hit the mark against Florida.

The Lightning captain ended a seven-game goal drought by potting a pair in the second period to ignite the Bolts offense.

Each goal was vintage Stamkos too. On the first, Stamkos skated to his favored spot in the left circle on the Lightning power play. Tyler Johnson found a clear passing lane from the right wing to swing the puck his way, and Stamkos dropped to his right knee to bury a one-timer at the near post ahead of Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo desperately sliding to cut off the small sliver of space.

Stamkos’ second goal came from nearly an identical spot but in the right circle. After collecting Ryan Callahan’s cross-ice pass, Stamkos wristed a shot in the only available space, right under the crossbar and above Luongo’s left shoulder, a shot only a pure goal sniper could convert.

Early in the third, Stamkos assisted Callahan’s goal, which gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead and put the game out of reach.

“I knew if I kept working hard that things eventually were going to go in,” Stamkos said. “Just tried to shoot the puck a little more today and got some nice passes. Nice to see those go in.”

Before the game, there was concern Stamkos might be slumping as the playoffs approached. His seven-game slide without a goal was Stamkos’ longest since his second season in the NHL.

Stamkos quickly alleviated those worries with his eighth three-point game of the season.

2. HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE

Tampa Bay has made Amalie Arena the toughest building in the league for opposing teams to win this season.

The Lightning have compiled a remarkable 30-8-1 record at home this season, the 30 wins the most in the NHL and a franchise record.

The Bolts are outscoring teams 134 to 84 at Amalie.

For the Lightning to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was imperative the team gain home-ice advantage for at least a portion of the postseason.

Saturday, the Bolts did just that, guaranteeing their first round opponent will have to beat the Bolts in Amalie Arena to advance.

“It feels good, but, at the same time, we know it doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” Bishop said. “But, it’s definitely nice to accomplish that.”

Now, with two games remaining in the regular season, the Lightning will try to secure home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Catching the New York Rangers might be a difficult proposition, the Rangers holding a three-point lead with four games yet to play, but finishing ahead of the rest of the East is a fairly attainable goal for the Bolts.

3. JOHNNY ON THE SPOT

The Lightning offense sputtered in two losses prior to the Florida game, the Bolts scoring just twice to fall in Toronto and Ottawa.

No doubt, Tampa Bay’s attack was missing All-Star center Tyler Johnson as well as other key components out due to injury.

With Johnson’s return to the lineup in Florida, the Lightning bounced back in a big way.

Johnson sparked the Bolts’ opening goal, spotting Stamkos all alone on his spot on the left dot with the man advantage.

“Johnny made a great play,” Stamkos said. “I saw him look at me. I knew it was coming, so I was ready.”

Late in the game, Johnson put an exclamation point on a scintillating performance. His initial shot from the left edge of the crease was blocked by Luongo, but he picked a spot top shelf far corner to put the rebound into the goal.

Johnson’s return gives the Bolts a big boost heading into the final week of the season. With 10 days until the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, hopefully the Lightning can get all of their players back and enter the postseason firing on all cylinders.

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