The Lightning won their ninth-consecutive game for the first time in franchise history, one-upping the eight-game streak set by the 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship squad.
The Bolts were forced to do a bit of work to secure No. 9. They twice held a one-goal lead before Carolina rallied to pull ahead 3-2 in the third. Tyler Johnson scored his third goal in his last three games to level the score with 6:18 to go, and Alex Killorn won it in overtime, skating the length of the ice, charging toward the goal, waiting, drawing Hurricanes goaltender Eddie Lack to his knees and lifting a shot into the back of the net.
Tampa Bay remains in first place in the Atlantic Division standings, now two points in front of the second-place Florida Panthers, which fell 5-1 last night in Arizona.
The Lightning completed a three-game sweep of Carolina with Saturday’s victory.
Can the Bolts make it 10 in a row in Philly?
We’ll have to wait a day to find out, but before that, let’s revel in win No. 9 in our history-making edition of 3 Things.
1. NINE IS FINE
Ask any player in the Lightning locker room, and they’ll tell you the current win streak is a point of pride but not something they’re overly concerned with.
At this point in the season, the Bolts are singularly focused on making the playoffs.
Victories in nine-consecutive games will certainly help in that regard. Plus, there’s an added benefit to winning nine in a row: taking a record away from the 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship team and cementing their own place in the Lightning record book.
“It’s special,” Bolts center Tyler Johnson said. “You’re part of the team that can do that, it’s obviously pretty special. But at the same time, you’ve got to look at one game at a time. It doesn’t really matter what we did tonight when we play Philly (on Monday). We’ve just got to focus on that now. It’s kind of a weird thing, you’ve got to be proud of it but at the same time you’ve got to forget about it tomorrow.”
The current Bolts have one more title they’d like to eliminate from the 2003-04 team’s resume: only Lightning team to win a Stanley Cup. The Bolts have certainly made believers of their fans with their play since New Year’s. After a mediocre start to the 2015-16 season coming off the heels of last season’s lengthy Stanley Cup Playoffs run, the Lightning have put it all together in 2016, going 21-6-0 since the start of the year.
Mixed within those 21 wins is a seven-game win streak and the current nine-game win streak.
The Bolts show no signs of slowing down either.
“We worked pretty hard, and whenever you can break a record, especially the team that last did it was the team that won the Stanley Cup, it’s nice,” Killorn said.
2. WELCOME BACK TRIPLETS
The Triplets line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov was the talk of the NHL last season, the young trio developing into arguably the league’s best line.
But this season hasn’t been as successful for the group.
Sure Kucherov is having a standout season with 25 goals and 53 points through 63 games. The production from Palat and Johnson, however, hasn’t been quite the same. Both dealt with multiple injuries through the first half of the season, stunting their ability to reconnect as a unit.
The Lightning’s team-wide early scoring woes didn’t help either as Bolts head coach Jon Cooper tinkered with line combinations to try to find the right mix and often times the Triplets weren’t partnered together.
On Valentine’s Day, down 2-0 at home to the St. Louis Blues, Cooper switched up the lines again, putting the Triplets back together in an attempt to create a spark.
Kucherov scored late in that game to get a goal back, too little too late to salvage a point or a victory.
Since that game, the lines have remained consistent, and the Triplets have started to resemble their play from a year ago. Their reemergence has played a pivotal role in the Lightning’s ability to reel off nine-straight wins.
In Saturday’s win over Carolina, the Triplets were spectacular yet again. Palat netted two goals, his seventh multi-goal game of his career, and Johnson provided the game-tying goal after the Hurricanes pulled ahead 3-2 in the third period. Kucherov had two assists.
Combined, the Triplets accounted for six of the Bolts’ nine points.
“That line had a great night obviously,” Bolts goaltender Ben Bishop said. “Pally was phenomenal. Johnny and Kuch were buzzing there, so you had a feeling something good was going to happen (on the game-tying goal). They were working hard and that’s what happened, they get rewarded for getting the puck in deep and going to work there.”
Johnson has scored three goals over his last three games. Palat hit double digits for goals this season (10) with his two-tally night and is on a two-game goal streak. And Kucherov continues to produce at a high rate for the Bolts, his two points on Saturday vaulting him over Steven Stamkos and back into the team’s scoring lead with 53 points.
If the Triplets can continue their torrid play through the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs, the Lightning’s chances of returning to the Stanley Cup Final increase drastically.
3. SCORING IN BUNCHES
The Lightning were the top-scoring team in the NHL last season, netting a league-best 3.16 goals per game, the prolific scoring a big reason the Bolts were able to capture the Eastern Conference crown.
For much of the current season, however, scoring just hasn’t come as consistently for the Lightning. Through the first couple months of the season, the Bolts ranked in the 20s in the league for goals per game.
But since the start of the new year, the Lightning have been able to find again the scoring punch that was such a staple of the team last season. In 2016, the Bolts are averaging 3.11 goals per game, just slightly off their pace from a season ago. Tampa Bay now ranks ninth in the NHL for goals per game at 2.77 for the season.
On Saturday, the Lightning continued to find the back of the net with regularity, scoring four goals for the sixth time in their last eight games.
And when the Lightning do score more, the way Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been playing in goal, the Bolts are near unbeatable. Following Saturday’s victory, the Lightning have won 16-consecutive games when scoring three or more goals. The Bolts are 29-2-3 overall this season when scoring three or more (conversely, they’re 10-20-1 when scoring less than three).
“Our guys have been scoring well for me the last few years,” Bishop said. “I had a feeling we would come back to life.”