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Burns: 3 Things we learned from demolishing Ottawa

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 5-1 rout of the Senators on Monday

by Bryan Burns /

The Tampa Bay Lightning have endured plenty over the last 24 hours, losing Ben Bishop, the best goaltender in franchise history, via trade Sunday night and, a day later, watching locker room favorite and team leader Brian Boyle leave following another trade.

Monday night, the Lightning set out to prove the off-ice distractions wouldn't derail their push for the postseason.

In one of its more dominant performances of the season, Tampa Bay scored five-consecutive goals after falling behind 1-0 to post an important 5-1 win over Atlantic Division rival Ottawa.

The Senators handled the Lightning 5-2 in their last visit to AMALIE Arena a little less than four weeks earlier, but the Bolts got their revenge on Monday behind a natural hat trick from Nikita Kucherov and a 39-save effort from Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Lightning have won three out of their last four games and have grabbed points from eight of their last nine.

How were the Bolts able to set aside the events of the day to punish the Sens? We'll look at the keys to the win in 3 Things we learned from demolishing Ottawa.

Video: OTT@TBL: Vasilevskiy reaches to rob Kelly with stick


February hasn't been kind to Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The third-year pro hadn't won in the month entering Monday's start versus Ottawa. In fact, Vasilevskiy only had one win in all of 2017, that coming in a 34-save performance at Chicago on January 24.

Vasilevskiy's struggles weren't necessary his own doing either. Three of his last five losses came in overtime or a shootout. He stopped 37-of-38 shots in a brilliant showing Feb. 10 against Western Conference-leading Minnesota but was denied the victory in a shootout.

On Monday, however, after Ben Bishop's trade to Los Angeles a day earlier firmly planted Vasilevskiy into the role as the Bolts' every day starter, the Russian netminder went out to prove why the organization put so much faith in him.

Vasilevskiy stopped 39 shots against Ottawa, the second most saves he's had this season, in a confidence-building victory to end a five-game losing skid.

"Vasilevskiy was outstanding," Cooper said. "Actually I think that it gave him confidence for him to be making some of those saves and it gave our team confidence. When we kind of got our legs under us, especially our power play, we kind of took over a little bit from there. It was Vasy's night for sure in the first."

Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in the game in the opening period when Ottawa threatened to blow them out. The Senators converted a 5-on-3 power play just over six minutes into the first period to go up 1-0 and had several chances to build on their advantage but couldn't find a way past a determined Vasilevskiy. His save in particular on Chris Kelly, who had a wide-open net on a rebound off a rush but saw his shot swatted away by a last-ditch swing of the stick from Vasilevskiy, sent a message to the Senators it would take a Herculean effort to beat him on this night.

"Vasy kept us in the game in the first period and played well the whole game," Kucherov said.

Video: OTT@TBL: Kucherov records second career hat trick


Someone might want to notify the Senators they'd be wise to knock Nikita Kucherov out of the right circle when the Lightning are on the power play.

Kucherov registered the first hat trick for Tampa Bay this season and the second hat trick of his NHL career. And he scored all three goals on the same shot from the same spot on the ice.

After Brayden Point leveled the score 1-1 just 1:39 into the second period, Kucherov provided the game-winner at 5:37 of the second, ripping a one-timer from the right dot past Ottawa goalie Mike Condon.

Less than five minutes later, the Bolts were back on the power play, and Kucherov was back on the right dot, firing another one-timer past Condon.

Late in the second, the Lightning were awarded another power play, and Kucherov went right back to his office. Victor Hedman, who assisted on two of Kucherov's power-play goals, found the Russian forward in his favored circle, and Kucherov again delivered, sending a flurry of hats raining down on the AMALIE Arena ice.

"I told Heddy to give him the puck, maybe he's got a shooter's stick today," the Lightning's Jonathan Drouin said. "You saw that third one, nobody really places like that. Top shooters do in this league, and he's definitely one of them."
Kucherov nearly had a couple more goals in the third period, the chances seemingly coming at will for the sniper. He added an assist on Braydon Coburn's tally for a career-high-tying four-point night, his fourth of the season and second in his last three games.

"When he's got that shooter's mentality with the gift he has to put the puck in the back of the net, this is what happens," Cooper said. "Now what'd he had seven (shots) tonight? This will happen for him. Guys like Kuch, they're special players. They have high hockey IQ's. They want to make plays and sometimes it hurts them by making too many plays. When he's got that shooter's mentality, these are the type of things that happen."

Video: Drouin on Bolts sense of urgency


The Lightning are fighting over the final 21 games of the regular season to position themselves for a postseason spot.

But, in reality, the Bolts are kind of already in the playoffs.

That's because every game is crucial for Tampa Bay at this point of the season. Too many losses or games without picking up both points down the stretch, and the Lightning can kiss their playoff chances goodbye.

It's a win-or-go-home mentality for the Lightning right now.

"Right now for us, every game is huge, and it was nice to get those two points," Kucherov said.

The blowout over the Senators served two purposes. It showed there's still plenty of fight left in the Bolts even after losing two key players in Bishop and Boyle. And it proved to be a four-point night: The Lightning earned two points themselves while preventing Ottawa, ranked second in the Atlantic Division coming into the contest, from leaving Tampa with two points and extending its lead over the Bolts.

"You look at the Eastern Conference, everything's tight," Drouin said. "You win a couple games, you never know. You hope for the other teams to lose, but it's up to us. We've got to win our games and get our points, and we'll see from there."

Following the Ottawa win, Tampa Bay pulled within six points of Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division and five points of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We got through the bye week, and we played a bunch of teams in the West where we were getting points but we weren't really climbing over anybody," Cooper said. "You've got to beat the teams that are ahead of you. Those are the four-point games. This was one of them tonight. We've got Carolina coming (Wednesday). We want to keep them behind us. We've got to win these games against these teams.

"Tonight was a good start."

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