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Burns: 3 Things we learned from three in a row

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 5-2 win over New Jersey on Sunday

by Bryan Burns /

Back at home in the friendly confines of AMALIE Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning are starting to hit their stride.

The Lightning won for the third game in a row and are 3-0-0 on their current homestand after downing the New Jersey Devils 5-2 at AMALIE Arena Sunday night. Like the Chicago game two nights earlier, the Bolts raced out to a 4-1 advantage by the end of the first period and made that lead stand up throughout.

And Louis Domingue was a rock in net once again for the Lightning, stopping 33-of-35 shots to pick up his eighth victory and fourth win in his last five starts.

Tampa Bay regained first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference by virtue of Sunday's win, leapfrogging idle Buffalo.

The Lightning have two games remaining on the homestand: Tuesday versus Anaheim and Thursday in what has suddenly become an important Atlantic Division showdown with Buffalo.
Before getting there, though, let's look back at why the Lightning are playing so well right now and have been able to outscore opponents 16-7 on the current homestand.

Video: NJD@TBL: Killorn banks puck in off Schneider in 1st

The first period of Sunday's win over New Jersey was nearly a mirror image of the opening period of the previous game against Chicago.

In both, the Lightning stormed out to a 3-0 lead before 10 minutes had elapsed on the clock.

In both, the opponent got a goal back to stem the momentum.

And in both, the Lightning responded to that goal almost immediately to regain their three-goal lead.

Tampa Bay has netted the opening goal in five-straight games now. And once the Lightning have scored that first goal, they're not sitting on the lead. They're pushing even harder to add more.

Lately, it seems the Lightning can do whatever they want in first periods.

"When you're up pretty early, it's a tough hole to climb out for teams," Lightning center Brayden Point said. "Sometimes, even if they outplay you, it's still a tough way to get out of. Getting the jump on things early is huge, and the past couple of games we've been able to do that, which is nice."

The Lightning have scored 10 goals combined in the first period of their last three games. The Bolts have established an attacking mentality from the opening puck drop in recent contests and are overwhelming teams with their speed and skill in the offensive zone.

The opposition doesn't have time to catch its breath before another puck is in the back of the net.

"We're just putting teams on their heels right away," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "Tonight, I think our first couple of shifts, we were in our zone a little bit, but it was really attacking the net and that's starting to pay off for us."

Establishing such a large cushion in the first period, the Lightning have been able to coast the final 40 minutes, concentrating on their defensive zone and keeping pucks away from Domingue, to see the victory through to the finish line.

 Video: NJD@TBL: Johnson buries sweet feed from Point

Since Jon Cooper decided to separate Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov during the third period of a loss in Nashville on November 19, the combination of Tyler Johnson, Brayden Point and Kucherov on the second line has been pretty much unstoppable.

Against the Devils, that lie was again the difference in the game.

Not only are they often tasked with shutting down teams' top offensive threat -Taylor Hall's line didn't record a point Sunday - they've been scoring at an incredible pace. They accounted for one of the Lightning's four goals versus New Jersey. And Point and Kucherov linked up on the power play for a second goal in the Bolts' overwhelming first period.

It's probably about time we come up with a permanent name for the trio.

Since joining forces, Point has scored three goals and added two assists. He currently sits tied for third in the NHL for goals (17) and fifth for scoring (31 pts.).

"The way he plays the game, the way he skates and makes reads, he's always in the right spot defensively," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He's a treat to watch and a treat to have him on the team. He's a complete player, and obviously we're fortunate to have him on our team."

A couple places ahead of him on the scoring charts, Kucherov ranks tied for third in the league for scoring (32 pts.) and has seven assists and a goal over the last three games. Kucherov is currently on a six-game scoring streak, one game shy of matching his season high.

"Teams are definitely watching him out there for sure," Point said of Kucherov. "I think you just try to get open for a guy like that. He sees the ice so well and is so good at getting the puck to guys in good spots, you just have to get open for him."

And Tyler Johnson has netted three goals over the last two games and became the second Lightning player to reach double figures for goals after netting his 10th of the season Sunday.

The second line has been the engine for Tampa Bay since forming.

And it's helped the Lightning maintain first in the East standings.

 Video: Jon Cooper on the Bolts 5-2 win over Devils

The Lightning have gotten off to such quick starts the last couple games, the final 40 minutes of each has almost been an afterthought.

Sure there have been times the opposition threatens to get back in the game. But the Lightning have handled those threats with minimal concern. And, of course, Domingue has been fabulous in net while Andrei Vasilevskiy continues to recover from a fractured left foot.

Against New Jersey, the Lightning added an insurance marker in the second, Point scoring - okay, really it was Sami Vatanen scoring on his own net - midway through the period to push the Bolts' advantage to 5-1. Defensively, Tampa Bay was near-perfect, reducing the major scoring chances to basically nil and holding possession for large stretches to prevent from New Jersey from mounting any semblance of a comeback.

"It's human nature whether you take your foot off the gas, the other team's going to push, there's so many different variables," Cooper said. "You're making the other team chase the game right away. But I thought in the second period, here's the chance for them to push. I thought we handled it well."

New Jersey got a goal back five minutes into the third period when Jesper Bratt led a two-on-one rush and rocketed a shot from the top of the left circle past Domingue.

But that was it.

New Jersey never got a sniff of another goal the rest of the night because of the work defensively the Lightning did to put the game away and the comfort level and confidence of Domingue, which is at an all-time high during his tenure with the team.

"It's tough giving up that one goal in the third, but you've just got to make sure the guys are just doing the right things and thinking about our net as we feel like we have enough in their net to win us a hockey game," Cooper said. "We've got a good group in there, and they've proven over time to close out games and they did that tonight."

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