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Burns: 3 things we learned from blanking Toronto

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Funny thing about win streaks this season in the NHL: they’re often followed by a lengthy losing streak.

The Florida Panthers went on a 12-game win streak to take the lead in the Atlantic Division then lost four in a row.

Defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago also won 12-consecutive games before losing its next two and three of the next four.

And of course there’s the case of Montreal, which won its first nine games of the season but has since gone into a tailspin and is currently out of the playoffs.

So, when the Tampa Bay Lightning fell in Florida on Saturday to end a season-best seven-game win streak, the Bolts were cognizant not to let one loss turn into two or more, erasing the hard work of the previous three weeks.

The Lightning started (hopefully) a new win streak on Wednesday, beating Toronto 1-0 in the final game before the All-Star break. Tampa Bay moved into a second-place tie with Detroit in the Atlantic Division and now trails Florida by five points for first.

Last night’s win had quite a few nail-biting moments, the Bolts scoring early and holding on for 55-plus minutes behind a brilliant 30-save performance by backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

What did we learn about the Bolts heading into the five-day break? Recapping a hard-fought win over the Leafs in today’s 3 Things.

1. ANDREI THE GIANT

Andrei Vasilevskiy’s parents were inside Amalie Arena to watch their son play a NHL game live for the first time.

The couple watches every Lightning game on TV Vasilevskiy said, but in Russia, that usually means waking up early in the morning.

On Wednesday, they got to see their son in action at a normal time.

The 21-year-old netminder didn’t disappoint.

Vasilevskiy earned the second shutout of his NHL career after making all 30 saves against Toronto. The Lightning attack bogged down following Steven Stamkos’ power-play goal less than five minutes into the game, so Vasilevskiy became the most important player on the ice over the final two periods.

He responded with his best game of the season and maybe even his career.

“He was our best player by far,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “Probably the best player on the ice.”

Vasilevskiy’s top save of the night didn’t count among his 30 stops but underscored just how dialed in the Russian was. With the Leafs on a late second-period power play, Braydon Coburn slid down onto the ice to block a shot in the crease. Leo Komarov was tangled up on the ice with Coburn and pushed the loose puck over to P.A. Parenteau on the post. From two feet away, Parenteau had a wide-open look at a one-timer, but Vasilevskiy slid over to rob him with a tremendous reaction glove save.

Vasilevskiy faced just one shot through the first 15 minutes of the game but saw increasingly more action as the game progressed. By the end of the game, he was constantly under the gun.

But he never wavered.

“He was focused,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Even the one that was the hand pass that wouldn’t have counted, that’s a big-time save. Every save he made, he was under complete control. There was never one time he was scrambling…He was in full control.”

Cooper joked that the team should fly Vasilevskiy’s parents in for every game he starts if the results mirror Wednesday’s performance.

Said Vasilevskiy about playing well in front of his family: “I showed them I can play in the NHL. That’s an amazing feeling.”

2. FALTERING POWER PLAY

Cooper said postgame the Lightning power play was the difference Wednesday, the Bolts going 1-for-6 and converting on their first opportunity when Steven Stamkos sniped his 21st goal of the season from the left dot 39 seconds into the man-advantage.

The second Lightning power play looked just as dangerous and produced a handful of Grade A opportunities that the Maple Leafs were lucky to escape without any further damage.

After that, however, the Lightning power play got steadily worse as the game continued. By their sixth power play early in the third period, the Bolts couldn’t even enter the offensive zone and allowed Toronto a couple of dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunities.

“When your special teams is maybe not rocking it at some major percentage but they’re scoring at the right times when you need them, that’s helping you win games,” Cooper said.

The steady decline of the power play over the duration of Wednesday’s game is concerning, however.

“We wanted to get the win and we got the win,” Stamkos said. “But there’s definitely some room for improvement.”

3. A MONTH TO REMEMBER

Before the new year, the Lightning were a team still searching for consistency, struggling to regain their form from the previous season.

In January, the Bolts finally put it all together.

The Lightning went 9-2-0 during the month, transitioning from a team on the outside of the playoffs looking in to a team in control of its postseason destiny. The Lightning occupy second place in the Atlantic Division along with Detroit and are tied for fourth with the Red Wings in the Eastern Conference.

Tampa Bay finished with the best January points percentage (.818) in the NHL.

“Nine out of 11, that’s a pretty good record,” Stralman said. “We’re back in the playoffs, and that’s what you want. We wanted to finish off this game before the break and get the points. It wasn’t pretty, but we got it.”

The Lightning had a season-high seven-game win streak during the month. They scored three or more goals in seven of 11 January games.

The Bolts recorded two shutouts in the month, blanking Colorado (Jan. 12) and then Toronto on Wednesday. They knocked off the reigning Cup holders with their 2-1 win over the Blackhawks (Jan. 21), and they solved Florida for the first time with a 3-1 home victory (Jan. 17).

In short, Tampa Bay, for the first time this season, looked like a team capable of returning to the Stanley Cup Final during the month of January.

“The nine wins we’ve had, for the most part, we’ve earned most of those wins,” Cooper said.

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