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Burns: 3 things we learned from turning the calendar

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

October was a mixed bag for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bolts started the month on a three-game win streak but finished it 0-3-1 and with just two goals in their last four.

The Lightning hope to find more consistency in November.

Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes is a good beginning.

Tampa Bay fell behind 1-0 in the first period – the Lightning have yet to lead any game this season after 20 minutes – but scored four-straight goals to build a comfortable lead. Andrei Vasilevskiy, making his 2015-16 debut after missing a month of the season following surgery, was strong in net, recording 32 saves and keeping the Lightning within striking distance when they were still searching for their offense.

Overall, it was a satisfying evening in Raleigh for the Lightning. And they learned a few things along the way, 3 Things in particular, which we’ll detail ahead.

1. VASY IS A MACHINE

When Andrei Vasilevskiy was found to have a blood clot near his left collarbone and forced to go under the knife to remove the clot, the initial timetable for his return to the ice was two to three months.

Vasilevskiy had surgery September 3.

He was back playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning less than two months later on November 1.

The layoff did little to stunt Vasilevskiy’s development as a NHL goaltender either, it would appear.

The Russian was back in full practice for the first time last Monday. By the end of the week, he had played twice for the Syracuse Crunch in a conditioning assignment, stopping 56-of-58 shots combined to win both contests, giving up just one goal in each.

Sunday, Vasilevskiy was recalled to the Lightning and got his first start later that night, relieving Ben Bishop from having to perform double duty on the second half of a back-to-back. Vasilevskiy performed better than could have been reasonably hoped after the long layoff.

“He was unreal,” Ondrej Palat said.

The Lightning hangover from the end of October lingered into November, at least through the first period. The Bolts offensive attack still stuck in neutral, Vasilevskiy stood tall early to keep Carolina from building a multiple-goal advantage. Once the Lightning got one goal, Ryan Callahan providing the game-tying score 38 seconds into the second period, the Bolts found their comfort zone and started moving the puck the way they’re capable, resulting in three more consecutive goals before the Hurricanes could stop the bleeding.

Throughout, Vasilevskiy built a wall around the Lightning net, keeping the Hurricanes from gaining any momentum. Only when the Lightning had the game in hand were the Canes able to put a couple pucks past Vasilevskiy, including a meaningless score with 0.1 second on the clock.

“He looked calm, collected,” Steven Stamkos said. “…He made some nice saves, especially early on when we were down one. It could have been two, and he shut the door.”

2. ANGRY BOLTS

The Lightning were not a happy bunch in the locker room following their 3-1 loss to Boston on Halloween night, their fourth defeat in a row.

“It’s unacceptable,” Stamkos said dejectedly after the Boston loss. “I take responsibility as a leader of this team that I’ve got to do better. We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror because…we’ve lost seven games and won five [going 5-5-2]. To me, that’s under .500 and closing in on 15 games of the season, we’ve got to be better.”

In a sense, it was almost a blessing the Lightning were back on the ice less than 24 hours later in Carolina. Typically, fatigue would be a concern on a back-to-back, particularly with travel between Tampa and a road venue sandwiched in between.

The Bolts were too angry to be tired, though.

After an admittedly sluggish first period, the Lightning awoke to blitz the Hurricanes over the final 40 minutes, controlling play until the late stages of the game and performing like the team Bolts fans grew accustomed to seeing during last season’s Cup run.

Stamkos said after the Carolina win the Lightning didn’t cheat the game. They played it the right way and were rewarded with a much-needed victory.

“We talked about it that you can have all the skill in the world, but what made us really a special group last year was having that combination of work ethic and skill,” he said. “We had that tonight, especially in the second. I think that set the tone for our game tonight and just restored some confidence that if we do play that way, we see the results. That’s a big one for us on this trip.”

3. SHAKE IT UP

After Saturday’s loss to Boston, Stamkos suggested it might be time to stir things up a bit and test out some new line combinations to see if anything could awaken the Lightning offense out of its deep slumber.

Tampa Bay did just that to start the second period on Sunday, putting Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan and Stamkos on the ice to start the period.

Callahan scored 38 seconds later, one-timing a pass from Palat on the back door past Carolina goalie Cam Ward.

“When things aren’t going well, sometimes it’s just a little change and everyone refocuses and says, ‘OK, let’s see what we can do with this group,’” Stamkos said. “You just feel refreshed, refocused. Obviously, it helps when you score on the first shift of the second.”

The Lightning continued to tinker with the lines throughout and had success. Stamkos scored on the power play to provide the go-ahead goal, J.T. Brown scored on a nifty backhand shot to the top corner of the far post for his second goal of the season and Tyler Johnson ended his personal scoring slump with his first goal of the season midway through the third.

It remains to be seen whether the Lightning will continue shifting line combinations. Breaking up the Triplets would have been a ridiculous idea at the beginning of the season, but with the line’s slow start to the season, it might be necessary to kick the Bolts’ moribund offense into high gear.

“It just kind of seemed to reinvigorate everybody,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of the line shakeup. “It carried us to a win.”

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