What do you do when the opposing goaltender is hotter than a Florida afternoon in the middle of July?
You keep shooting.
And shooting some more.
The Tampa Bay Lightning adopted that philosophy Friday against Buffalo, the Atlantic Division cellar dwellers relying on a tremendous performance from goalie Michal Neuvirth to stay within striking distance of the Eastern Conference leading Bolts.
Tampa Bay sent a season-high 47 shots at Neuvirth. In the second period alone, the Lightning set a franchise record for most shots in a period (27).
Eventually, two of them found their way past Neuvirth in a 2-1 Tampa Bay win, the Bolts’ third in a row and seventh in their last eight games.
How were the Bolts able to stay positive And who led the charge to victory?
Read on to find out.
1. Patience, grasshopper
In December, Neuvirth’s effort might have been enough to send the Lightning to defeat. In fact, the Bolts did lose to Buffalo on December 2 after goalie Jhonas Enroth stood on his head, stopping 26-of-27 shots in a 2-1 Sabres shootout win.
But, Tampa Bay has matured greatly since.
Where in the past the Lightning might have grown frustrated from their inability to put the puck past Neuvirth, on Friday, the Bolts practiced patience.
This team has an inner calmness about them. As well as they’ve been playing of late, there’s a feeling amongst the players that eventually they’ll find a way to pull through.
Like they did Friday against the Sabres.
“Guys believe in each other,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Every game we go into, we believe we’re going to win the game. It doesn’t always work out that way, but you want to have that in your guys regardless of what the score is.”
Trying times are no longer seen as obstacles for the Lightning.
Instead, they’re challenges.
“We had every reason to maybe hang our head a little bit and kind of come out of our game plan, and I think all it did was (tick) them off,” Cooper said. “They played great.”
2. Alex Killorn made the play of the night for the Lightning
In the locker room following the game, reporters naturally gravitated toward Steven Stamkos to ask about his game-winning score.
All Stamkos wanted to talk about was the play Alex Killorn made to set up the Lightning captain’s 22nd goal of the season.
With about five-and-a-half minutes remaining in regulation and the score tied 1-1, Killorn one-touched a pass behind his back on the wall perfectly into the path of Jonathan Drouin to start a 2-on-1. Drouin drew the Buffalo defenseman before dishing to Stamkos on the back post.
For his part, Stamkos finished the scoring chance with ease.
“I think the play that’s going to go unnoticed is Killer’s play,” Stamkos said. “…(He) takes a hit to make a play.”
Stamkos has seen his linemates change on a nearly game-by-game basis and sometimes even within the game. On Friday, Stamkos centered a line with Drouin and Brett Connolly, but Killorn replaced Connolly toward the end of the first period.
Maybe the Bolts have found something with the current combination.
“Hopefully, this is the start of some chemistry,” Stamkos said.
3. Neuvirth’s save to rob Connolly might have been the best we’ve seen from an opponent in 2014-15
Lightning forward Brett Connolly was sure he had scored his ninth goal of the season in the second period on Friday.
So too was the Bolts’ horn blaster.
Connolly made a great move in the slot to get past Buffalo defenseman Andre Benoit. Alone on Neuvirth, Connolly drew the goalie out of position by faking a backhanded shot, then put the puck on his forehand for an easy tap-in goal.
Except Neuvirth was going to be anything but easy for the Bolts to beat Friday.
A scrambling Neuvirth reached back desperately with his glove hand, trapping the puck to the ice centimeters before it crossed the goal line.
As the goal horn sounded, a stunned Connolly looked back toward the goal in disbelief.
“You’ve got to feel for Brett Connolly,” Cooper said. “He did everything possible, and (Neuvirth) makes a fantastic play and ultimately the kid robbed him. But they stuck to the plan, and that’s been kind of the theme.”