The reports of the death of the Tampa Bay Lightning offense were greatly exaggerated.
After the Lightning scored only seven goals in the five games coming out of the bye week, fans wanted to know, "What gives?" The highest-powered offensive unit in the NHL, the Bolts were accustomed to scoring four goals a game.
Now, fans are thinking, "Save some of those for the playoffs."
Tampa Bay put up six goals in an impressive 6-0 shutout of the Dallas Stars Thursday night at AMALIE Arena, the Bolts' fourth win in a row and eighth-straight game with a point.
In those four wins, the Lightning have netted 22 goals, the offense clicking on all cylinders.
For that matter, so is the defense and the goaltending.
Tampa Bay notched another impressive win, defeating a Dallas team that was 6-1-1 in its last eight games before playing the Lightning to work its way into a playoff spot.
The opponent doesn't seem to matter to the Bolts right now. They're playing their brand of hockey and having a ball doing it.
"It's a ton of fun to come to the rink every day when things are going as well as they have this year," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said following the win. "We're a group that our tendency is to have some fun and relax and enjoy ourselves. When you're doing that, you're usually playing some good hockey and playing with confidence."
Video: DAL@TBL: Lightning erupt for four goals in 1st
1. OVER AFTER 20
Like the Calgary game, the Lightning had a fantastic start to the contest against Dallas, the Bolts overwhelming the Stars in the first period to open up a 4-0 lead going into the first intermission.
But where the Flames were able to briefly get back into their game versus Tampa Bay on Tuesday after falling down 3-0 in the first - aided in part by the referees - the Stars never had a glimmer of hope beyond the opening period.
Tampa Bay coasted to victory over the final 40 minutes, the game never in doubt after the first.
"They're never stress free," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "The one thing is, you jump out to a 4-0 lead in the first period, in the locker room, we didn't think it was a 4-0 game. The pucks were going in the net for us, and we capitalized on our opportunities. When that happens, you're putting a team on its heels. It was how are we going to handle this? We got a couple more in the second, power play did what it had to do, and then you get to the third and you're playing for your goalie."
Tampa Bay earned back-to-back power plays in the first 10 minutes of the game and scored on the second, Steven Stamkos tapping Ondrej Palat's cross-crease feed into the open net just eight seconds into the man-advantage opportunity.
Five minutes later, Mikhail Sergachev, playing with a brand-new stick he used for the first time this morning and one he'll no doubt use plenty more the rest of the season, saw Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin a bit out of position in his net and snapped a shot from the top of the right circle high over Khudobin's stick for a 2-0 lead.
Before anyone could collect themselves from Sergachev's goal, Tyler Johnson was sprinting ahead to poke a puck through Khudobin's legs to make it 3-0 Tampa Bay nine second after the second goal. Nikita Kucherov unleashed his world-class shot from the slot less than two minutes after to cap the Bolts' first period scoring blitz.
Tampa Bay has netted seven goals in the first period over the last two games.
Those early leads have allowed the Bolts to play with confidence throughout the remainder of the game and coast to victory, even if it doesn't feel that way to the head coach.
"You play the right way, get some chances early, some looks on the power play, which is going well lately and we capitalized and they came out flat," Stamkos said. "Another big win for us, all over the sheet, the power play, the penalty kill, the goaltending, it was good solid win."
Video: DAL@TBL: Kucherov rips home blistering shot
2. KUCHEROV'S INCREDIBLE RUN
Nikita Kucherov tallied a goal and three assists against Dallas to reach 92 points on the season.
Let me repeat that: Nikita Kucherov has 92 points this season.
Through 58 games
He finished with 100 points last season in 80 games.
If he continues at his current pace, he'll shatter his previous career high. He'll also shatter the Lightning franchise record for scoring in a season, 108 points put up by Vincent Lecavalier in 2006-07.
Heck, Kucherov might hit Lecavalier's mark by the end of February the way he's pointing right now.
"We weren't joking when we said we're not worried about Kuch," Stamkos said, referring to questions a week earlier when Kucherov had only two points through five games. "He goes through a slump, and a slump for him is a point a game maybe. It's amazing. When he's feeling it, it's so much fun to watch and he's a huge part of our offensive success."
Let's take a look at all the records Nikita Kucherov notched Thursday night shall we?
He reached the 90-point mark with his second assist against Dallas and became the first player in Lightning history to record 90 points before his 60th game and just the fifth different player in the NHL to do so in the last 20 years.
He became the first Lightning player ever to record three or more points in three-consecutive games.
With 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) over the last three games, Kucherov tied the Lightning record for most points over three-straight games, matching his own mark from earlier this season.
And with 66 assists this season now, Kucherov needs just two more to match the franchise record for most assists in a season, established previously by both Brad Richards (2005-06) and Martin St. Louis (2010-11).
Let's not forget, there are still 24 games remaining in the season.
As long as he stays on track, Kucherov's season will go down as the greatest season ever for a Tampa Bay Lightning player.
Video: DAL@TBL: Vasilevskiy stops 32, ties club shutout mark
3. VASY TIES BISHOP FOR MOST SHUTOUTS
Fitting Andrei Vasilevskiy would match former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop's record for most shutouts in franchise history while playing the Stars and Bishop's current team.
Vasilevskiy stopped all 32 shots he saw against Dallas to notch his fifth shutout of the season - second most in the NHL - and 17th for his career, tying Bishop for the franchise record. Vasilevskiy has recorded four of those shutouts in his last 13 starts, two coming versus Dallas (he also blanked the Stars 2-0 in Dallas after making all 35 saves Jan. 15).
Vasilevskiy's night will be overshadowed by the offensive numbers the Lightning put up against the Stars. He didn't have to work nearly as hard as he's had to in previous starts this season. His teammates did a superb job limiting Dallas shots to the perimeter and giving up only a couple of high-quality scoring chances.
But Vasilevskiy was at his best too. Alexander Radulov got free in front of the net in the third period and had a chance to end the shutout with a rebound opportunity. Vasilevskiy, however, reacted quickly, stretching his right leg out to catch Radulov's shot just in time, probably the prettiest of his 32 saves Thursday night.
"He's been unbelievable for us for the whole season," Kucherov said. "He's a top goalie in the league. Especially for him, after the 1st period we were up 4-0, we just want to make sure we play smart and we don't give up chances."
Bishop didn't play against the Lightning - he's still nursing a minor injury - but you have to wonder if there's something about facing the Stars and his former mentor that brings out the best in Vasilevskiy. He made 67-of-67 saves in two shutouts of the Stars this season. For his career, Vasilevskiy has never lost in regulation to Dallas, improving to 5-0-1 all-time following the win Thursday.
Bishop owns nearly every Lightning franchise record for goaltending.
But in short order, Vasilevskiy has inched his way near Bishop for most of them.
He closed in on one more against Dallas and needs just one more shutout to own the record outright.