In addition to showing how well the Lightning can perform when playing their best, Thursday’s game against Buffalo also sent a message to the rest of the NHL.
The Bolts are not a group to be trifled with.
Three separate incidents occurred between Tampa Bay and Buffalo over the final period in a game the Lightning already had well in hand. Trailing by four goals, Buffalo tried to goad the Bolts into fighting.
The Lightning didn’t back down and accepted the challenge.
“It’s for other teams to know we’re not going to just lie down and take it,” said Lightning center Brian Boyle, who was involved in a fight with Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta. “I think it’s important that we’re going to be a hard team to play against in a lot of areas, almost every area. We’re going to be a fast team and score goals and be hard to play against. If you want to start doing that stuff…we’re going to answer the bell.”
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper can remember nights like Thursday’s happening with regularity.
Now? It’s a rarity.
“The game has changed,” Cooper said. “As I’ve come through the ranks and been in different leagues, what seemed to be a weekly occurrence has now turned into a monthly occurrence, which has now turned into a bi-monthly occurrence.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is fans’ appetite for fighting in the NHL.
“I did specifically look and I didn’t see anyone running for the exits,” Cooper said. “It was entertaining. It also brought out, I think, the passion of both teams. One team was up quite a bit, kind of defending its turf, and one team was a little bitter and pissed off. That’s why this game is so great because of a lot of passion regardless of what happens. Teams want to win. It was mano y mano.”
Jonathan Drouin paired with veterans Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow on the same line for the first time Thursday.
The trio proved to be a successful combination.
“Jo’s a guy that…needs the puck,” Cooper said. “That’s what he’s good at when he has it on his stick. He had a couple guys on the line that could go get it for him. They’re big bodies that keep other teams honest and that opens up a little room for Jo. I thought it did that last night.”
Drouin set up the Lightning’s third goal, making a nice move in the left circle with the puck to break free before firing a pass for Brenden Morrow in front of goal.
“He created that goal with sort of a sidestep move that was about six feet in, just a leap,” Boyle said. “It’s kind of freakish talent. It’s unbelievable. He’s coming along awesome.”
Boyle said Drouin’s work ethic combined with his natural ability is a deadly mix.
“He’s a great young player in terms of he’s asking, he wants to learn, he’s working hard,” Boyle said. “He’s out on the ice after practice late almost every day pretty much. So, it’s good to see him kind of grow in that way.”
Expect to see more of the Drouin-Boyle-Morrow combination in the future, especially if results like those we saw Thursday night continue.
HOME SWEET HOME
In the locker room following Thursday’s game, Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop reiterated how much fun it is for the Bolts to play in front of their home crowd at Amalie Arena.
“We’ve got good crowds. The fans are awesome, they really are,” he said. “We play in some building and they don’t have sellouts and we come out and the building’s full every night.”
Counting the 5-0 shutout of Buffalo, the Lightning are 11-2-1 at home this season.
“I’d be shocked if there’s five rinks in this (league) that have better atmosphere than ours,” Cooper said Friday. “That has its effect. You go into rinks that are rocking, the home team, they are energized off the crowd. You can see it in our guys. When you’re on the road, that’s working against you. So as a coach, you try and find a way to energize yourself.”
Tampa Bay continues its current four-game homestand Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets (puck drop 7 p.m.) The Bolts will wear their alternate black third jerseys for the fifth time this season.
“If you’re having any chance of making the playoffs, you have to win at home,” Cooper said. “I think the way that we’re winning, that’s really putting us in the position we’re in now.”