After a worrying performance versus Carolina in the their first game back from the All-Star break, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked spectacular in a 5-1 beat down of the Detroit Red Wings.
With the victory, the Lightning took back the top spot in the Atlantic Division the Red Wings snatched from them two nights earlier. The Bolts also moved back into first place in the Eastern Conference and set a new franchise record for consecutive wins (9) at home in the process.
What else happened? Lightning rookie Cedric Paquette registered his first career hat trick, Mark Barberio scored for the first time this year and Jason Garrison absolutely manhandled Justin Abdelkader in a third period fight.
None of that makes our 3 Things, however, in what was truly a memorable game at Amalie Arena with a ton of storylines.
1. BEN BISHOP STOOD TALL FOR THE BOLTS
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop turned in one of his best performances of the season in a crucial game for the Bolts.
Bishop made 27 saves on 28 shots, but, more than anything, it was the confidence he displayed while turning away Detroit time after time that should have Lightning fans pumped as the team heads into the stretch run of the regular season toward the playoffs.
“Bishop probably goes a little bit unnoticed in this game just because of the score, but he made a couple big saves…,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He kept it tight for us until we got our vibe going on the offensive end…He was good tonight.”
Bishop’s biggest save came with the score tied 1-1 and the game still very much hanging in the balance. With about five minutes left in the first period, the Bolts turned the puck over near the offensive zone blue line, sparking a two-on-none for the Red Wings. Riley Sheahan skated with the puck down the center of the rink with Luke Glendening to his left and fired a shot toward goal that Bishop picked clean out of the air with his glove.
A few minutes later, Paquette scored the second of his three goals before the first intermission and the rout was on.
“There’s going to be saves in games, both sides, that are important,” Bishop said. “Obviously, with them just scoring to tie it 1-1 and having a breakaway, that might have been one of the bigger ones of the night. The guys responded real well. Every game’s going to have one or two of those saves throughout a game that guys can rally behind. I think that was one of them.”
After Tuesday’s 4-2 loss in Carolina, a few Lightning fans questioned whether Bishop had peaked, that maybe the six-year NHL veteran hit his pinnacle in a record-setting season a year ago and might be on the downswing of his career.
Bishop quickly put those fears to rest.
2. CONNOLLY COMES TO THE RESCUE
Early in the first period with the Lightning holding a 1-0 lead, Detroit’s Kyle Quincey put a hard lick on the Bolts’ J.T. Brown in the Wings’ zone, which had the Bolts forward doubled over on the ice in pain.
Brown’s linemate Brett Connolly took exception to the hit and immediately confronted Quincey, wrapping up the Detroit defensemen and throwing him to the ice, where the two rolled around for a few moments.
Quincey was sent to the box two minutes for roughing; Connolly got a double minor roughing call.
The extra penalty didn’t hurt the Lightning as Detroit, the second best power-play team in the NHL, was unable to capitalize with the advantage.
Connolly’s play, however, did seem to spark Tampa Bay. As Connolly exited the penalty box, the Bolts on the bench banged their sticks against their boards to signal their approval.
From that point forward, the Lightning ramped up the intensity and played a much more physical brand of hockey against Detroit.
The result? A 5-1 beat down of one of the NHL’s best teams and a message to the rest of the league that the Lightning are not a group to be taken lightly.
3. CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
Tampa Bay is halfway through the Atlantic schedule having played 15 of 30 games against divisional opponents.
Including Thursday’s 5-1 thrashing of the Red Wings, the Lightning are 11-2-2 in those 15.
Tampa Bay’s glowing divisional record is part of the reason why the team is in first place in the Eastern Conference. The Bolts have yet to lose at home in regulation to an Atlantic rival.
In four games against Montreal and Detroit, who both sit a point behind the Lightning in the division chase, the Bolts are 4-0 and plus-12.
After a difficult February in which Tampa Bay plays eight of 12 away from Amalie Arena against entirely Western Conference opponents, March and April should be much more manageable for the Bolts. Fifteen of their 19 games during the two months will be played versus teams from the Atlantic.
If the Lightning can continue playing well against the division, the Bolts should be able to bank quite a few points during a time in which the team is, hopefully, positioning itself for a higher seed in the postseason and home ice advantage.