At this rate, it feels like the Tampa Bay Lightning might never lose again.
The Lightning won their eighth game in a row to move into first place in the Atlantic Division (The Bolts are tied with Florida at 80 points but own the tiebreaker with more wins in regulation/overtime). Tampa Bay’s 4-1 win in Ottawa on Thursday wasn’t necessarily a convincing victory, but the Bolts scored the opening goal to grab momentum, extended the lead, fought off the Senators’ inevitable push back and put the game out of reach with a pair of late goals.
Since the beginning of 2016, the Lightning are 20-6-0.
At 8-2-0, the Bolts own the second-best record in the NHL over their last 10 games. Only Anaheim, a perfect 10-0-0, is better.
The Lightning are playing some of their best hockey in a long time right now. We’ll break down why in today’s 3 Things.
1. A HISTORIC WIN
Thursday’s win in Ottawa was significant for a number of reasons.
The Lightning won their eighth game in a row, matching the franchise record for consecutive games with a victory.
The last time the Bolts won eight in a row?
The 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship season
Those win streaks came at roughly the same point in the season too. The 2003-04 squad won eight straight from February 23 to March 6 to propel them to their second-straight division title.
The current Lightning team started its win streak on February 18. The string of wins has allowed the Bolts to catch Florida in the race for the Atlantic Division title (both teams sit at 80 points presently) and make a serious run over the final 18 games of the season for its third-ever division championship.
Tampa Bay’s win in Ottawa was its sixth straight on the road, tied for the second-longest road win streak in franchise history. With one more road victory – their next opportunity will come Monday in Philadelphia – the Lightning can equal the longest road win streak (7) in team history, set during the 2006-07 season (Jan. 7-Feb. 1).
Also on Thursday, the Lightning swept a four-game road trip, the first time in franchise history the Bolts finished a road trip of four games or more unbeaten.
Clearly, these are unprecedented times for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good spot for the rest of the way here,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We want to keep winning hockey games. We’re on a good roll right now. We’ve just got to keep that going.”
2. BISH PLEASE
One could make the argument that the Lightning’s Ben Bishop has been the best goaltender in the league this season.
The 29-year-old was named to his first All-Star Game this season. He currently leads the NHL for goals-against average (2.04). He’s fourth for save percentage (.926).
Against Ottawa, Bishop turned in another sterling performance, stopping 33-of-34 shots to record his fifth-straight win and 27th of the season.
Bishop has never lost to his former team, improving to 9-0-3 with Thursday’s win.
“Probably the best I’ve seen him, and that’s saying a lot considering he’s been one of the top goalies in the league for a while now,” Bolts captain Steven Stamkos said. “You look back, we talk about it a lot giving up two or less, and he’s lost I think (10) times. That just goes to show, even when he has some losses on his record, he’s given us a chance to win. He’s been a huge part of our team’s success.”
Since giving up five goals in the shootout win versus Winnipeg to start the win streak, the Lightning have allowed just eight goals combined in the seven games that followed.
Bishop, who was on the ice for five of those wins, is a big reason why.
“I’m playing pretty well right now, try to keep it consistent, but right now things are going well,” he said. “It’s a long season. There are ups and downs, and right now it’s an up, so you just try to enjoy it while it’s there. Eventually, it’s going to come back down a little bit. You just try to stick with it and keep doing what works.”
Don’t discount the job Andrei Vasilevskiy has done in a backup role either. Vasilevskiy won his 11th game of the season in the 2-1 win in Toronto on Monday and has been victorious in nine of his last 10 starts.
“He’s not played as much as Bish but he has (11) wins and you need that tandem,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “You need both guys going, and they’ve been going for us. The big thing was, when we weren’t scoring in that first kind of month-and-a-half stretch, those guys won us games when we needed them. And now we have a little bit of goal support, and they deserve it.”
3. BALANCED ATTACK
The Lightning saw four different players score in the win over Ottawa.
Cedric Paquette registered his fifth goal of the season after backhanding a rebound past Senators goalie Andrew Hammond early in the second period
Ondrej Palat put the Bolts up 2-0 late in the second, jamming home the puck on a follow-up attempt when Tyler Johnson’s wraparound was blocked by Hammond.
Nikita Kucherov pounced on a turnover in the Ottawa zone and shot past Hammond with 1:46 left in the game to seal the win for the Lightning.
Steven Stamkos recorded his team-leading 29th goal of the season on a late empty-netter for good measure.
The four different goal scorers underscores a larger point about this Lightning team: you can’t shut the entire lineup down.
If the top line of Alex Killorn, Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, which has been on fire since joining forces a few weeks ago, gets taken out of the game, the Triplets line can pick up the slack. The Bolts’ third line – Paquette, Valtteri Filppula and J.T. Brown – is tasked each night with matching up against the opposition’s best offensive threat and stopping them, a role they’ve performed very capably. But they can score too, as evidence by Paquette’s opening goal.
Even the fourth line has scoring potential. Vladislav Namestnikov is tied for fifth on the team for goals (10). Brian Boyle (9 goals) is tied for seventh. When he’s in the lineup, Jonathan Marchessault provides another scoring threat.
The Lightning have scored four or more goals in six of their last eight games.
The waves of talented offensive players they can send at the opposition are a big reason why.