Last night in Calgary, the Lightning opened the month of February with a win, their 35th of the season. They have played 51 games. Their 73 points currently are tops in the NHL, pending Vegas' game on Friday in Minnesota. One year ago tonight, the Lightning were playing at home against the Ottawa Senators in what was their 52nd game of the season. They lost, 5-2, and their record fell to 22-24-6. Based on the other results in the league that night, the Bolts, with 50 points, dropped into last place in the Eastern Conference.
That's a 23-point improvement for this year's Lightning team - and they'll play their 52nd game on Saturday in Vancouver. How the 2016-17 Lightning finished up last season, however, can be informative about what the 2017-18 squad can expect to see from opponents from here on out.
As we know, the 2016-17 Lightning made a furious push in their final 30 regular season games. They went 20-6-4, good for 44 points. It wasn't quite enough to make the playoffs, but that end result doesn't erase the fact that team played its best hockey of the year during the final two months of the regular season. During those final 30 contests, the Lightning had seven sets of back-to-backs - they went 7-0 in the second game. Six of those seven wins came on the road. Two key arrivals from Syracuse helped fuel the late-season push. Yanni Gourde scored six goals down the stretch and Jake Dotchin became Victor Hedman's defense partner.
But the most important ingredient to the Lightning's run was that the team played with high urgency. Their playoff fate depended on it.
Obviously, this year's team is in a much better spot. But many of its opponents down the stretch will be in a precarious position - on either side of the playoff cut line. They will be displaying the same level of desperation that we saw from the Lightning late last year.
So one of the challenges for the Lightning, as we head towards the regular season's finish line, will be to match their opponent's urgency.