The Tampa Bay Lightning completed a three-game homestand with an unblemished 3-0-0 record following Monday night’s come-from-behind victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Having lost four of its previous five and six of eight, Tampa Bay needed to break the cycle of losing it had developed during the month of December. A return to home ice – combined with some much needed rest – appeared to be just the tonic to cure the Bolts’ ailments.
Entering Tuesday, the Lightning have taken over first place in the Eastern Conference and are two points clear of Montreal at the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
The Bolts begin a four-game road trip starting Wednesday in Buffalo. What kind of team can we expect to see at the First Niagara Center? Read ahead for some clues.
1. Bolts rally was their biggest of the season
So far in 2014-15, Tampa Bay has been one of the better teams in the NHL coming from behind. Before Monday, the Lightning were 7-8-1 when trailing first, the fifth-best mark in the league.
But, the Lightning had never rallied from two goals down.
Despite giving up two goals in the first period, the Bolts never panicked. They outshot the Leafs 15-4 in the first and felt they were unlucky to be behind.
“I wasn’t worried,” Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said. “I don’t think anybody on the bench was worried either.”
Tampa Bay stuck to its system and was rewarded with two goals to tie the game in the second period before Steven Stamkos’ tip-in game-winner in the third.
“We realized we made a couple mistakes, but we realized what they were getting we were giving them and you just kind of shake it off,” Stamkos said. “You know that you outplayed them, you know we had a lot of chances. You could just feel the momentum. Obviously huge to come back in the third.”
The Lightning shut out the NHL’s top scoring team over the second and third periods.
“I thought the guys did a good job of responding to those two goals and pretty much dominating from there on out,” Bishop said.
2. Greasy goals are the best kind
In the 10 games prior to the matchup with the Maple Leafs, the Lightning scored just 22 total goals, an average of 2.2 a game. Tampa Bay had been the top scoring team in the league but the scoring slump allowed Toronto to gradually overtake the Bolts prior to the Christmas break.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper gave a number of possible reasons for the goal drought: opponents being able to scout the Bolts better with more games on tape, injuries forcing the Lightning to shuffle lines, the natural ebbs and flows of the NHL season, etc.
But, perhaps the biggest reason? The goals in front of net – what Cooper calls the ‘greasy goals’ – had dried up. The Bolts had gotten away from doing the dirty work to produce scoring.
Monday against the Maple Leafs, the Lightning scored three greasy goals to win an important divisional matchup versus a team nipping at their heels in the standings.
“That was a big point of emphasis today,” Cooper said.
From the slot, Ryan Callahan scored the 150th goal of his NHL career, swinging and connecting with a rebounded puck in mid-air to knock it past Leafs goalie James Reimer.
Valtteri Filppula redirected Victor Hedman’s wrist shot from the right circle with his skate in front of goal to tie the game in the second. Stamkos got the bottom of his stick blade on Matt Carle’s slapper to score the game winner in the third.
“Callahan’s was in the right spot, right time, makes a great hand-eye,” Cooper said. (Filppula) and (Killorn) are right in front on the second one, and the third one Stammer’s in front. That’s where goals are scored and the more you can do that, the better chance you have to score goals.”
The Lightning had 41 total shots against Toronto. When you can put that many shots on net and guys are willing to do the dirty work in front of goal, good results like Monday’s will follow.
3. Playoff atmosphere propels Bolts
The game against the Leafs had a postseason-like vibe to it, the packed arena buzzing all night with Toronto fans chanting “Go Leafs Go” and Lightning fans responding with “Let’s Go Lightning.” The energy in the building provided a boost to the Lightning, to a man the Bolts saying after the game the constant cheers from the Leafs fans serving as motivation to quiet them.
“I’ve been part of the Toronto-Ottawa rivalry and Ottawa-Montreal,” Bishop said. “It’s kind of the same thing that goes on here. This was by far the best atmosphere in the league probably. There aren’t too many rinks where you get so many fans from the other team besides maybe in Ottawa. This was really cool. It makes it a lot of fun for us to play.”
When Stamkos scored the game-winner with 8:55 to go in regulation, Amalie Arena was arguably as loud as it’s been all season.
“It’s a ton of fun playing in front of our crowd,” Cooper said. “The place is packed every night. I know a few Maple Leaf fans snuck into the building tonight, but our guys were pretty fired up.”
Kudos to all the Lightning and Maple Leafs fans in attendance for being loud all night and providing a great atmosphere throughout the game.