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Lightning on pace for historic 2018-19 campaign

The Bolts are the eighth team in NHL history to reach the 90-point mark within 58 games

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Not only are the Tampa Bay Lightning outpacing the rest of the NHL by a wide margin - the Bolts are now 15 points ahead of the rest of the League and have been atop the standings continuously since December 2 - but their current point pace puts them in the same category as some of the best teams the NHL has ever produced.

The Lightning earned their 90th point of the season in just their 58th game on Thursday when they posted a 6-0 shutout victory over the Dallas Stars, who came to AMALIE Arena red hot at 6-1-1 through their previous eight games but left shaking their heads at the thumping the Bolts gave them. Only seven other teams in League history have reached the 90-point mark within their first 58 games of the season. Only three teams in the last 20 years have accomplished the remarkable feat.

So how have the Bolts gotten so, well, good?

"A lot's gone into this, it's not just one year in the making," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following his team's morning skate Saturday. "You look back and there's a whole bunch of things that have gone into this. The acquisitions of Miller and McDonagh last year, Sergachev, you just go through how Steve and now Julien have built this team over the last couple years. The emergence of Kuch, the emergence of Brayden Point, the emergence of Anthony Cirelli, and it's all kind of coming together right now, Vasilevskiy, you can go on and on. The guys are all comfortable with how we're doing things. It takes time to get to where we are. I guess it's nice to be where we are in the regular season. You need the points to get into the playoffs, but this is also, we've got to keep this going once this goes into the spring. It takes time, and we're seeing the fruits of everybody's labor right now."

Video: Jon Cooper on the Montreal Canadiens

The Lightning are currently on pace to finish the season with 127 points. Only four teams in NHL history have posted more than 125 points in a season, and the last team to do so was the Detroit Red Wings all the way back in 1995-96.

"I think part of it is we want to improve every single night," Yanni Gourde said. "I think even if we win by two, we win by six, we look at the tape the next day, we're going to try to improve, we're going to see which aspects we have to be better at. I think that's what makes this team so good is kind of our desire of getting better every single night. I think it's in all of us. I think it's something the organization probably taught us…We want to get better, and I think that's a big, big part of it."

A look at Tampa Bay's rankings in various statistical categories sheds light on how this team has been piling up points in historic fashion. The Lightning are first in the NHL for goals per game (3.88). They're fifth for goals allowed per game (2.72) and improving. The Bolts own the top power-play unit in the League at 29.8 percent, a power-play success rate that would rank fourth all-time in the NHL if the season concluded today. The penalty kill, a sore subject for the Bolts in 2017-18, has been one of this season's biggest success stories, ranking third in the League (84.4%) and just four-tenths of a point behind League-leader Arizona (84.8%).

There's nothing, it seems, this Lightning team doesn't do well.

"From the goaltenders out, our depth is one of our strongest assets, and I think that we've found a way for everybody in the lineup to contribute this year," J.T. Miller said. "I think that's really hard to play against if you're the other team. Every line can skate and move the puck up the ice and play fast, like over the course of a game, it's wearing on the opponent. It's been a lot of games so far. Obviously, we're in a tough stretch now, so every game's important and facing another good team tonight and a lot of desperate teams we're going to be playing against in the near future. It's going to be a good test for us."

Tampa Bay will attempt to complete a perfect homestand when it hosts the Montreal Canadiens tonight at AMALIE Arena. The Lightning are on a four-game win streak and have earned points in eight-consecutive games. Maybe the most impressive stat of the season, however, is the Bolts' response when things don't go their way. The Lightning have yet to lose more than two games in a row this season, an ability to stop a losing skid before it starts that was a hallmark of the 2014-15 squad that advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Video: Miller on the Bolts' incredible run

This current Lightning team has only lost two in a row twice so far this season. That 2014-15 team dropped two straight on 10 different occasions.

"You've got to be able when you do lose one or two or whatever it is, you've got to find out why and you've got to stop it," Cooper said. "This team's been really good at doing that. But we look forward, we've got I don't know 25 or how many games do we have left, 24? We've got Montreal twice, we've got Boston three more times, we've got Toronto twice, we've got Washington three more times, there's a lot of really good teams we are staring at coming down the stretch here. That'll be a test for us."

The Bolts have aced every test presented them so far this season.

The remaining 24 games will determine how this team stacks up against the NHL's best teams ever. 

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