One of only three home losses for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season came against Ottawa when the Senators prevailed 3-2 in a shootout in the second game of 2014-15.
The Lightning had an easier go of it in the rematch.
After a spirited Sens squad started brightly, scoring the game’s opening goal and bottling up the Bolts potent offense, Tampa Bay’s relentless attack finally broke through for three goals in the third to pull away.
The Bolts have won three in a row for the second time this season. How’d they do it? Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage (Coolio and hockey go together, right?).
1. So much for easing Victor Hedman back into the lineup
Prior to Tampa Bay’s matchup against Ottawa, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman suggested it might take him a few minutes to regain his timing and adjust to the physicality and speed of the game. His playing time would reflect how quickly he adapts.
“I want to play as much as I can right away, but it’s obviously up to me to prove that right away,” he said Saturday morning.
Needless to say, it didn’t take Hedman long to pick up where he left off in Vancouver.
Hedman played nearly 20 minutes in his return after a six-week absence, logging 19:55 of ice time and skating the highest number of shifts on the team with 24.
Hedman jumped back into special teams duty too, joining the Bolts’ power-play and penalty-kill units.
“I felt conditioning was not an issue,” he said following the game. “I think in the beginning, the timing was a little bit off. I think it got better throughout the game. It felt good to get back on the power play, get back on the timing there as well. It was a good step in the right direction…For being the first game back, I’m pretty pleased.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper agreed Hedman’s return was a boost for the Bolts.
“He was commanding out there with and without the puck,” Cooper said. “It’s great to have him back because it takes a lot of relief off the guys that play big minutes on our team.”
2. Brenden Morrow was the last Lightning forward to tally a goal in 2014-15, and his teammates couldn’t have been happier for him
A lot of what Brenden Morrow does for the Lightning goes unnoticed. He wears opponents down with his physical play. He grinds. He goes into the “dirty areas” as Cooper says and does so without reservation. He’s a pest and an instigator and someone who gets inside the head of the opponent to take them out of their game.
In the locker room, he’s just as valuable, his 15 years of NHL experience blending well with the abundance of youth surrounding him.
So, when Morrow finally broke through with his first goal in a Lightning sweater in game No. 24, the Bolts were juiced.
“I haven’t seen guys fired up for a guy as much as they were,” Cooper said. “We are excited anytime we score, but there was an extra little jump in everybody’s step when Morrow scored.”
Morrow’s goal was typical of the Bolts’ bruiser line that includes Brian Boyle and, on Saturday, Cedric Paquette.
“(They) grind it out, finish checks,” Cooper said. “Boyle was down there. Cedric’s hammering guys, went in and got it and Morrow’s right there in the blue paint jamming it home. That was great. That put a smile on everybody’s face.”
3. The Bolts top the Atlantic Division
With Montreal falling to Atlantic Division bottom-feeder Buffalo in a shootout Saturday, Tampa Bay regained first place in the Atlantic, moving into a tie with the Canadiens on 34 points but having played one fewer game.
In the Eastern Conference, the Lightning are tied with Montreal, Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders for the top spot (Pittsburgh has the advantage with a game in hand).
The Atlantic Division is proving to be the tougher of the two Eastern Conference divisions too. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Atlantic would grab both wild card spots. Seven of the eight Atlantic teams (Buffalo excluded) appear to be serious playoff contenders. Seventh place Ottawa beat the Lightning in Tampa early in the season and gave the Bolts all they could handle through two periods Saturday before wilting on the end of back-to-backs.
All of that is to say the Lightning’s gaudy 16-6-2 record places them among the top teams in the NHL. And the Bolts haven’t gotten there by feasting on bad teams in a weak division either.