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Lightning show improvement across the board during nine-game win streak

by Dan Rosen / Tampa Bay Lightning

PHILADELPHIA -- Could the Tampa Bay Lightning's franchise best nine-game winning streak and rise to first place in the Atlantic Division be as simple as the players saying, 'Boys, we're better than this,' and doing something about it?

Yes, defenseman Anton Stralman said, it can be, because that's basically what happened two and a half weeks ago after a home loss against the San Jose Sharks. It was the Lightning's fourth loss in a five-game stretch and it dropped them out of a Stanley Cup Playoff position.

They're 9-0-0 since that loss and have outscored the opposition 33-16, including 24-7 in the past six games. They go for their 10th straight win Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SNE, SNO, SNP, SUN, CSN-PH, NHL.TV). Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy will start for the Lightning. He's allowed two goals in his past two games.

"We realized where we were at and the way we were playing wouldn't get us anywhere," Stralman said. "Everybody sharpened up and bought into the system we play, started pulling their load and doing their part. That's the only thing that changed."

Stralman is speaking in a big picture way. Breaking it down, the Lightning have improved in every area of their game except the power play, which is 3-for-31 during the win streak.

The problematic power play, though, hasn't stopped the Lightning from rediscovering the scoring touch that helped them finish first in the Atlantic Division last season and eventually reach the Stanley Cup Final.

They've scored 3.67 goals per game in their past nine games; they were scoring 2.6 goals per game through their first 56 games.

A big part of that is the chemistry they've found in their lines.

"The Triplets" line featuring center Tyler Johnson, left wing Ondrej Palat and right wing Nikita Kucherov has combined for 12 points in the past three games.

They've found the groove that made them so good last season into the playoffs. It was impossible for them to find it earlier in the season because of injuries to Johnson and Palat.

"They're playing with a ton of confidence," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I don't want to sit here and say just because they've picked up some points of late has been the sign, this chemistry has been brewing for a little while."

Cooper said the pressure on "The Triplets" has been eased because center Steven Stamkos' line with right wing Ryan Callahan and left wing Alex Killorn is also producing.

Stamkos has seven goals in the win streak, including one in each of the first six games. His hot streak started one game after general manager Steve Yzerman publicly stated the Lightning's pending unrestricted free agent captain would not be traded.

Coincidence? Maybe.

Killorn also has eight points during the streak, including four goals, two of which were game-winners. Although Callahan has no points in the past three games, he had four goals and 10 points in the first six games of the winning streak. He had 18 points in his first 55 games.

"When lines take pressure off each other it makes everybody have a better chance at success," Cooper said. "And then Fil (Valtteri Filppula), Brownie (J.T. Brown) and (Cedric) Paquette have been that mode of consistency for us for the last 10-15 games. Scoring is coming from different areas and that's taking pressure off 'The Triplets' and they've prospered because of it."

The Lightning's goaltending and penalty kill have been solid all season, major reasons why they were even hanging around the periphery of a playoff spot for so long. Lately, they've been dominant.

The PK is 25-for-28 during the win streak. That's 89.3 percent. It was 82.8 percent in the first 56 games.

"We're working well as a unit, keeping it tight and obviously following the scouting reports we're getting from the coaches," Stralman said. "We've followed the game plan every night and our goalies have been key for us."

Goalies Ben Bishop and Vasilevskiy have combined for a 1.75 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in the past nine games. They had a combined 2.28 GAA and .918 save percentage before the win streak.

"For a coach, you want to see your team playing well and well consistently; that's what we've been doing of late," Cooper said. "Could we sit here and say we've deserved to win all nine of these games? I think we have. I think we've put ourselves in a position to because of how consistent we've been playing. That's all you want. You want your guys gaming it out and playing consistent. They've been doing that and they've been rewarded for it."

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