The Tampa Bay Lightning can tie the franchise record for consecutive wins with a victory tonight over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.
The Bolts are currently on a seven-game win streak following Thursday’s 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. That seven-game streak is the second-longest in Bolts history.
Tonight, the Bolts can equal the eight-straight wins achieved by the 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship team.
"I think deep down we knew (a win streak) was going to happen," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "I’m not sure if anyone believed in us, but we believed in ourselves."
The Bolts have scored three or more goals in six of the seven victories on the win streak. They’ve rallied from deficits, most notably their 3-2 victory in Edmonton (Jan. 8) to start the streak after falling behind 2-0 heading into the third period. They’ve blown third-period leads (Vancouver on Jan. 9; Pittsburgh on Jan. 15) before regrouping to win in overtime. And they’ve have a few dominating performances on the current run, like their 4-0 win in Colorado (Jan. 12) or cutting down Chicago on Thursday, ending the Blackhawks franchise record 12-game win streak.
"You point back to that game against Edmonton as kind of the turning point and what we’ve been able to accomplish since then, Stamkos said. Your confidence grows and you feel a lot better heading into games and different situations and looking forward to hopefully keeping that alive.”
Stamkos said the Lightning had to do some soul searching following a 3-1 loss in Calgary – the Bolts last defeat before the streak – when the team was just three points out of seventh place in the Atlantic Division and staring at a widening gap between themselves and the teams they were chasing for a playoff spot.
"Maybe we were a little guilty of coming in (this season) and expecting to win games based on our skill set," he said. "The League’s too good to do that. You may get away with it here and there, but to do it consistently, it’s too tough. We had a look-yourself-in-the-mirror moment after the Calgary game, and we’ve responded since then."
THE STATE OF HOCKEY: Tonight’s matchup between in-state rivals Tampa Bay and Florida is one of the rare meetings where both teams are at the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
Florida leads the Atlantic by three points following their 4-0 shutout of Chicago Friday night. The Lightning are nipping at their heels in second place.
Tonight’s fourth game in the five-game season series between the two teams could be a four-point swing at the top of the standings.
"This is definitely the most competitive that it’s been by far," Stamkos said about the series. "…It’s nice to see obviously for the state of Florida that both teams are having great years. It’s not like the games against them have never mattered, but these ones are magnified a little more because of where both teams are in the standings and the competitive nature of both organizations. It’s obviously exciting and a big game tonight."
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said it would be beneficial for the growth of the game of hockey in the state if both teams were able to get into the playoffs.
"You look at those rivalries, whether it’s Rangers-Islanders or Calgary-Edmonton, those kind of in-province, in-state rivalries, and we have a team right in our backyard and for us to both be in the playoffs – and who knows what would happen if we ever met in a playoff series – but I think it would be great for hockey in Florida and a great series to watch."
IN NET: Tonight’s Atlantic Division tilt will likely feature a pair of All-Star goaltenders.
Cooper confirmed Ben Bishop will make his 36th start of the season tonight. Bishop has won four-straight starts and ranks second in the NHL for goals-against average at 1.94.
Meanwhile, Florida head coach Gerard Gallant said there’s a “good chance” Roberto Luongo will start both ends of a back-to-back set after making all 27 saves in the win over Chicago a night earlier.
Luongo earned his 72nd career shutout in the win against the Blackhawks, passing Lorne Chabot and Harry Lumley for 11th all-time in the NHL.
Luongo is 10-2-1 with a 1.68 GAA and three shutouts over his last 13 games.
ODDS AND ENDS: Cooper suggested there could be a lineup change for the Lightning tonight but didn’t divulge what that change might be…Jason Garrison is one assist shy of 100 for his NHL career…Tampa Bay defensemen have scored 12 goals in the last 16 games after netting just seven in the first 31 games of the season…The Lightning had their string of six-consecutive games scoring three or more goals stopped Thursday by Chicago but still won…Vladislav Namestnikov is +11 over his last eight games and leads the Lightning for plus/minus at +15.