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Burns: Three things from back-to-back games in the Golden State

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The results have been mixed for the Tampa Bay Lightning at the start of a five-game, 10-day road trip -- the Bolts’ longest of the season -- through the Western Conference.

The Lightning dominated San Jose on Sunday in a place where they rarely win. A day later, the Bolts started in a similar fashion against Los Angeles but faltered down the stretch to lose 3-2.

With game three upcoming against Anaheim on Wednesday, the Lightning have fallen to second place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division behind Montreal after the Canadiens’ victory Monday night versus Detroit.

A pair of games in the Golden State now in the books, what do we know about the Lightning that we might not have known before? Read on for more.

1. BIG BOUNCE BACK FOR BISHOP

Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop entered San Jose with, to his standards, a pair of sub-par performances in the back of his mind.

Eight days before starting against the Sharks, Bishop got lit up for three goals over nine opening-period shots and was pulled after the first intermission against Los Angeles. Two starts later, he faced 34 shots through two periods and allowed five goals in a loss to St. Louis.

With rookie goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy playing well in his few appearances, Bishop’s confidence could have sagged. Some feared his mini-slump might carry over into a full-blown slide.

Instead, he put together one of his finest performances of the season against San Jose, stopping 33-of-35 shots to lead the Lightning to 5-2 victory in a building they hadn’t won in since 2003.

“It was important for me,” Bishop admitted. “You look at the last few games and the numbers aren’t really where you want them to be, but then you watch the game and it’s kind of like you’re doing the right things. It was important not to change anything and keep doing what I’ve been doing all year.”

Bishop’s ability to put his last performance behind him and move on to the next challenge is perhaps his greatest asset according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

“It’s nice to know you can throw a guy back in there, and he’s going to gut a performance out for you,” Cooper said following the San Jose win.

Over the course of an 82-game season, a goalie isn’t going to have it every night, like the Los Angeles game. And his teammates aren’t always going to be at their best, ala St. Louis.

The key, Bishop said, is to remain calm and have confidence in your ability.

“It’s a long year. There are a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “You try not to get low, you try not to get too high.”

The San Jose game was certainly one of those highs for Bishop.

2. BACK-TO-BACKS CAUGHT UP TO BOLTS

The Lightning started against Los Angeles much like they had a night earlier in San Jose: by jumping on their opponent from the opening puck drop, playing 20 solid minutes of hockey and exiting the first period with a 1-0 lead.

Against the Sharks, the Bolts used their strong start to pull away.

But in L.A., the fatigue of playing six periods in a little more than 24 hours on the road eventually wore down Tampa Bay, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings capitalized on a handful of miscues to rally 3-1.

“They made some strong plays. They’re a big, strong team,” Cooper said. “I think we got a little bit tired at the end, which is understandable.”

The Lightning were 10-1-2 when tied after two periods prior to the L.A. game but couldn’t prevail like they had all season with the score tied 1-1 going into the third against the Kings, who had a day of rest between beating Washington at home and playing the Bolts.

“They clamped down. They took the lead,” Lightning forward Brian Boyle said. “You’ve got pucks in your end, and it seemed like we were kind of one and done or in and out, trying to use five guys and do what we were doing earlier getting to the net. It kind of wasn’t there.”

In the third period, Tampa Bay produced only two shots on goal until Tyler Johnson’s score with 37 seconds to go and the Lightning net empty.

“I don’t think we played well enough in the third period,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we stuck to our structure enough. We weren’t forcing plays. We weren’t moving our feet as much. But, credit to them, they played a solid third period as well.”

3. LUKE WITKOWSKI IS ONE TOUGH HOMBRE

Early in the first period against Los Angeles, Lightning defenseman Luke Witkowski was sandwiched between the Kings’ Trevor Lewis and Anze Kopitar behind the Bolts goal and went down to the ice, where he remained motionless for nearly a minute.

Eventually, Witkowski got up on his knees and skated off to the Lightning bench under his own power. He sat down for a shift before going into the training room to get further examination from Tom Mulligan, Tampa Bay’s head athletic trainer.

At that point, it appeared the Lightning would have to play the majority of the game with five defensemen – something that has been an all-too-frequent occurrence this season – with Brian Boyle sliding back to help out on the blue line.

Then, the second period was about to begin and Witkowski emerged from the tunnel, took a skate around the ice to make sure his faculties were still intact and returned to the game to play the final two periods, the 24-year-old rookie logging 10:25 of time on ice.

When Witkowski went down, the thought was he was out for the game and possible longer.

That he could return from the impact of getting hit simultaneously from the front and the back by two sizable opponents – Kopitar tips the scales at 224 pounds and Lewis is a few donuts shy of 200 – speaks to his resiliency.

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