The NHL’s top offense sputtered for a second-straight game during a 2-1 overtime loss in Ottawa on Thursday. The Tampa Bay Lightning have netted just two goals over their last two, and in losing four of their last five, the Bolts have scored a combined four goals in the four losses.
The Lightning are focused on righting the ship before the start of the postseason in less than two weeks. They’ll have three more chances to do so, starting with Saturday’s road trip finale versus the Florida Panthers.
Searching for a positive spin on last night’s loss? Look no further than today’s 3 Things.
1. THE EFFORT WAS THERE; THE RESULT WASN’T
To a man, the Lightning were pleased with the way they played Thursday night in Ottawa. They felt one point from the game was more than deserved and unfortunate not to come away with both.
“I think everybody saw tonight a different team from the Toronto game,” Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman said. “I’m happy with the way we played out there. Sometimes you play a good game and don’t get two points and sometimes you don’t play your best and get the two points. It’s just the way it goes. Tonight’s just one of those nights.”
On Tuesday at Toronto, the Lightning were listless and lethargic in a 3-1 loss to the Leafs. They put 41 shots on Toronto goalie James Reimer but only severely tested him on a handful of scoring opportunities.
Against Ottawa, the Lightning had one of their worst starts of the season as they struggled to combine more than two passes and fell behind early for a second-straight game. But, the Bolts found their footing midway through the opening period and produced a number of quality chances against rookie phenom Andrew Hammond throughout the next two plus periods.
Just like Reimer two nights earlier, however, Hammond proved to be difficult to maneuver the puck around.
“We battled,” Bolts center Brian Boyle said. “We could have converted on some chances, and (Ben Bishop) bailed us out other times. It was kind of a back-and-forth game, but much better than Toronto, that’s for sure. “
2. STRALMAN’S CAREER YEAR CONTINUES
Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman provided the primary assist on the Bolts’ lone goal, taking hold of Valtteri Filppula’s back pass along the left point and rotating the puck to the right side for an unmarked Jonathan Drouin, who skated onto the right dot and wristed a shot past Hammond.
The assist was No. 30 of 2014-15 for Stralman. The blue liner had never tallied more than 28 in a season previously, that coming in 2008-09 with the Columbus Blue Jackets in his third year in the NHL.
Three games ago in Montreal, Stralman scored his ninth goal, another career high (previous was six in same 2008-09 season).
Stralman was a minus player his first four years in the league but had his first plus season his debut year with the Rangers (plus-9) and has been a plus in the three seasons since.
Currently, Stralman is plus-21, by far his best ever plus-minus rating.
In his first season with Tampa Bay, Anton Stralman is having a career year. He’s provided stability to a young Lightning defense and, having skated in all 79 games to date, has been arguably the Bolts most dependable player.
Stralman’s acquisition by the Lightning during the summer free agency period appears to be the steal of the offseason in the NHL.
3. THE LIGHTNING WILL PLAY DETROIT IN THE FIRST ROUND…NO WAIT, MAYBE BOSTON…SCRATCH THAT, IT’S PITTSBURGH
Eight days away from the end of the regular season, Tampa Bay’s playoff picture appears murkier than ever.
For the past couple weeks, Detroit seemed a good bet to face off with the Lightning in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the two versus three seeds in the Atlantic, the Bolts continuing to trail Montreal for the top spot in the division and the Red Wings comfortably in third place.
But Detroit is just 3-5-2 over its last 10 and is now tied with Boston on points, albeit with a game in hand.
Ottawa continues to surge and is within three points of both the Red Wings and Bruins. If the Bolts finish second in the Atlantic, their opponent will be either Detroit, Boston or Ottawa, with the Florida Panthers a remote possibility.
Or, the Lightning could overtake Montreal , a very real possibility, and match up against one of the Wild Card teams. In that scenario, Detroit, Boston, Ottawa, Washington, Pittsburgh, Florida and the New York Islanders are all in play.
Tampa Bay’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal opponent might be unclear, but one thing is: the Lightning are in the dance.
And they’ve all-but clinched home ice in the first round. If the Lightning get one more point over the next three games or Detroit fails to get all 10 points from its last five, the Bolts will open the playoffs at Amalie Arena.