The Lightning got their pay back with a dominant performance seven months after Chicago beat them to hoist the Stanley Cup.
That means little, however, to Bolts head coach Jon Cooper.
“I would trade what happened tonight for what they took from us last year,” he said following, arguably, his team’s best performance of the season. “In saying that, that was last year, this is this year. We wanted these two points tonight. We wanted to see where we were at in our game against a team that had won 12 straight, and I think we showed well.”
The Lightning, in danger of dropping to seventh place as little as two weeks ago staring a 2-0 third-period deficit in the face against last-place Pacific Division Edmonton, are now squarely in second in the Atlantic Division and one point from division leader Florida, which hosts Chicago tonight.
Tampa Bay’s road game at the BB&T Center on Saturday could be a battle for first place in the Atlantic.
But let’s relish Thursday’s win a little more, shall we? Three of the biggest takeaways from Tampa Bay’s humbling of the Hawks.
1. WE RALLY WITH CALLY
Concern has been mounting among Lightning supporters over the lack of offensive production from alternate captain Ryan Callahan.
Through 46 games this season, Callahan has only five goals and nine assists, ranking ninth on the Bolts for scoring behind defenseman Anton Stralman (23 points) and center Tyler Johnson (15), who missed 13 games of the season due to various injuries.
At this point in the season last yeaer, Callahan had 14 goals, 19 assists and was fifth on the Lightning’s scoring list.
Callahan’s worth, however, can’t be measure simply in terms of offensive output. The 30-year-old veteran is a heart and soul player who gives everything his body has to offer on every shift. He leads the Lightning for hits (by a wide margin). He’s first among Bolts forwards for blocked shots. And, together with J.T. Brown and Valtteri Filppula, he’s been tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top line, an assignment the line combination has executed flawlessly during Tampa Bay’s current seven-game win streak.
“Callahan, I think our last two games, has been our best player,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “…Is he probably a little frustrated that he’d like to score goals? Well everybody would like to score goals. He’s not judged on that. Sure we’d like him to tap a few in, but he’s playing as important a role as anybody on this team and that is to antagonize and shut other teams’ big lines down. And not only are they doing that, they’re offensively getting O-zone time. When you’re doing that, eventually they’re going to go in.”
Stralman, who has played with Callahan over the last five seasons, first with the New York Rangers and now with Tampa Bay, said Callahan is playing as well as he’s ever seen.
“Cally’s been unbelievable the last couple of games,” Stralman said. “He’s been out of himself. It’s been really fun. I’ve played with him a long time, and he’s so hard to play against when he plays like he does. I just hope he gets rewarded for it too. He’s been out there and almost scored every game the last couple games. He’s had many chances, but I’m sure it’s going to come. “
The Lightning are 26-4-2 when Callahan scores dating back to his arrival in Tampa on March 4, 2014. Perhaps that explains why fans are so concerned with his scoring output; a Callahan goal usually equals a win.
They shouldn’t fear, however. Callahan is playing his role perfectly. And, eventually, a few of those shots, like the one Corey Crawford miraculously stopped early in the first period of Thursday’s 2-1 win, will start going in for Callahan.
2. LIMITING OPPORTUNITIES
During Chicago’s 12-game win streak, the Blackhawks averaged nearly 33 shots a game.
Subsequently, Chicago scored 47 goals over that stretch, or 3.92 per game.
On Thursday, the Lightning limited Chicago to just 18 shots on goal, the Blackhawks lowest shot output of the season (their previous low was 19 in a 2-1 overtime loss to at Calgary on Nov. 20). The Hawks had only nine shots through the first two periods.
Additionally, the 18 shots were the lowest for a Lightning opponent this season, one shot fewer than the previous opponent low (19, Washington on Dec. 18).
All of which suggests the job the Lightning did defensively against Chicago may have been their best effort of the season.
“If you keep opponents to under 20 shots a game, you are giving yourself a good chance to win,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.
On the second shift of the game, Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov started a two-on-two rush against the Bolts’ top defensive pairing of Anton Stralman and Hedman.
Stralman attempted to get the puck out of the zone, but his clear was held in by Anisimov, who dished behind to Kane.
Kane wheeled between the circles, and Anisimov got lost in front. Kane’s pass found him wide open, and Anisimov maneuvered around Bishop and shot into the net.
43 seconds off the clock
Funny thing is, Chicago never really threatened much the remainder of the game.
“The boys didn’t flinch,” Cooper said. “The puck didn’t bounce our way. Kuch lost it in the offensive draw. We had full possession, and then Stral’s had it and it was a bouncing puck and then you just get skilled players involved and that’s what they do and they’re good at that. You give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. But I was proud of the guys that there was no, ‘Oh no, what’s going to happen here?’ It was, ‘Dig your heels in the sand, and let’s go.’
“And that’s what they did.”
The Blackhawks were 29-3-2 this season when scoring first entering Thursday’s game.
The Lightning were undeterred.
“Tonight, we were firing on all cylinders,” Stralman said. “The forwards did a great job backpressuring, enabled us to have a good gap through the neutral zone and except for a few breakdowns, we didn’t give up too many rushes, and they’re obviously a skilled team that feeds off of odd-man rushes. So, I think we did a good job below the ice, and defensively, I think we’ve been pretty solid the whole year. This is another example of everybody working together.”
3. WE’RE GOING STREAKING
A few streaks were extended or extinguished Thursday night:
- The Lightning won their seventh game in a row and are currently on the second-longest win streak in team history. The Bolts can match the 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship team for the franchise’s longest win streak with their eighth-consecutive victory Saturday at Florida’s BB&T Center. The Bolts current run is the sixth-longest in the NHL this season and the longest active run. That’s because…
- Chicago saw its franchise-record 12-game win streak come to an end. The Blackhawks were the 14th team in NHL history to post a win streak of 12-plus games.
- Tampa Bay’s run of six-straight games with three goals or more came to an end. Nevertheless, the Lightning are 13th in the league for goals a game at 2.66, which is substantially more than the 2.3 they averaged the last time they visited (and were shutout in) Florida two months ago, ranking in the bottom-third of the league.
- Nikita Kucherov scored the game-winning goal on a second-period power play to reach seven games on his current point streak. Kucherov needs a point Saturday to tie the Bolts season-long point streak, which he set between Dec. 15-Jan. 2.
- The Lightning have now won five-straight games at home, the third-longest home winning streak in the NHL currently. Last season, Amalie Arena was a fortress, the Bolts owning the best home record in the league at 32-8-1. The Lightning have been just average at Amalie through the first half of the season (10-8-2 through Game No. 41), but in recent times have started to get their home swagger back.