The Tampa Bay Lightning completed a three-game homestand sweep on Saturday by coming from behind to beat the Dallas Stars before another sellout crowd at Amalie Arena.
In a game that saw three ties and three lead changes, The Lightning scored twice in a one minute, 51 second span early in the third period to move back in front for good.
Brian Boyle’s sand wedge from the Bolts blue line with 24 seconds to go proved to be the game-winner as the Lightning inch closer to the team record for total wins in a season. Tampa Bay has 41 victories currently, and with 15 games to go, the record of 46 is well within reach.
We learned quite a few things during the Bolts’ 5-4 win. What exactly? Here’s my take.
1. THE 2014-15 LIGHTNING ARE SPECIAL
No matter what happens over the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs, this year’s Tampa Bay Lightning will forever be remembered for its domination at home.
The Bolts won its franchise record 26th game at Amalie Arena on Saturday, 26 wins in just 33 tries. The Bolts not only bested the previous mark of 25, which was set four separate times, including the 2010-11 Eastern Conference Finals season and last year when the Lightning tied a franchise record for most wins overall (46), but they have a chance to completely shatter it and set the bar extremely high for future squads to aim for.
With eight more games remaining at Amalie Arena, it’s certainly reasonable to think the Lightning could reach at least 30 home wins, and the way they’re playing right now, sweeping all eight and finishing with 34 home victories isn’t out of the question either.
“That’s one of those things at the end of the year you look back and say, ‘That’s pretty cool,’” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But, we’ve got a long way to go.”
2. SECOND PERIOD SWOON
In recent games, the Lightning have followed a well-played first period with a dismal second, and the dip in play has hurt the Bolts.
After entering the first intermission against Dallas with a 2-1 lead, the Lightning were outscored 2-0 in the middle frame and were forced to rally in the third.
Two nights earlier versus Toronto, same thing: the Lightning were on the verge of blowing out the Maple Leafs but gave up a second-period goal and couldn’t put the Leafs away until late in the final period.
A week ago, a weak second period resulted in two Florida goals and a 3-1 deficit the Bolts weren’t able to recover from in a 4-3 loss to the Panthers.
The Lightning have generally been pretty good in the second over the course of the season, which makes their recent struggles puzzling.
“We gave up two bad goals, but after that period, we talked about we’ve got to be better in our defensive zone and if we’re going to be better, we’ve got to create some offense,” said Lightning left winger Ondrej Palat, who tied a career high with three assists against Dallas, following the victory over Dallas.
Tampa Bay was able to do something Saturday it’s had trouble doing all season: come from behind to win when trailing after two periods. The Lightning were just 1-18-2 in such situations prior to playing the Stars.
“Good teams come back. You have to be able to get wins to make the playoffs, and good teams that win, at some point, they have to come back in games,” Cooper said. “It hasn’t been an unbelievable strength of ours, but we have 41 wins, just not a ton of them have come from playing from behind. But, I think on the other side of things, it’s probably good. That means we probably had the lead quite a bit.”
3. PLAYOFF PICTURE COMES INTO FOCUS
After sweeping the three game homestand, the Lightning have created a bit of distance between itself and Detroit in the Atlantic Division. The Bolts are now five points in front of Detroit, although the Red Wings have four games in hand.
Montreal remains two points ahead of the Lightning with a game in hand at the top of the Atlantic standings. The Bolts can move into a tie with the Canadiens with a win Tuesday in Montreal.
Barring a complete collapse, it would appear Tampa Bay will finish in first or second place in the Atlantic Division with third an outside possibility.
Should the Bolts win the Atlantic and finish first in the Eastern Conference, their first round opponent will likely be Boston, which is two points ahead of Florida with two games in hand for the eighth and final playoff spot.
If the Bolts win the Atlantic but finish behind the Metropolitan Division winner, the opponent, as of today, would be Washington.
A second place finish in the Atlantic behind Montreal would mean Detroit, a team the Lightning are 2-0-0 against so far this season, is the likely first-round opponent.
Given the Bolts recent history against Boston – they’ve lost nine straight, going 0-8-1 – avoiding a first-round meeting with the Bruins might be the best possible postseason scenario.