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Lightning enter bye week with renewed hope

Tampa Bay is flying high with points in four-consecutive games, tied for its longest streak of the season

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Minutes after a three-goal loss at home to the Ottawa Senators on February 2, the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room was as somber as a funeral parlor.

Fitting, because in many prognosticators' eyes, the Lightning's playoff hopes had all-but expired.

Coming on the heels of a so-so six-game road trip, a West Coast swing that ended 2-2-2 but with a handful of needed, necessary points left behind, the Lightning pointed to a pair of home games against Atlantic Division opponents they were chasing in the standings as being two of the most important contests they would play all season.

The Bolts promptly went out and lost a 4-3 nailbiter to the Boston Bruins. Two nights later, they were soundly thumped by the Senators.

Nobody had any answers for what had just transpired following the Ottawa loss. With their playoff hopes already teetering, the Bolts laid a giant egg in a game they absolutely had to have.

"The results take a toll on you night after night," Boyle admitted in a forlorn locker room after the defeat.

Flash ahead two weeks later, and it's as if those losses never happened.

The Lightning are flying high, having won three of their last four games, a couple of those victories decisive like the 5-0 pounding of the Los Angeles Kings or the dominating 4-1 result on the road against a Winnipeg Jets team facing a similar playoff battle as the Bolts.

Tampa Bay has recorded points in four-consecutive games, tied for its longest point streak of the season. The one game the Lightning didn't win, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Wild, they played a solid road game against the hottest team in the Western Conference and came away with a point, something they haven't done in Minnesota since 2011.

As the team takes five days off for its midseason bye week, the Lightning appear primed to make a legitimate push for a playoff berth, a reality that seemed fantasy following that Ottawa loss.

Video: TBL@WPG: Point finishes Drouin's great no-look feed

"We've been playing well for a while now, the past two weeks, maybe," said Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin, who's scintillating stickhandling and skill set up the Bolts' opening goal in the Winnipeg win.

"We're happy with our defensive play. Offense hasn't' been there that much, but again, I think we started off capitalizing on our chances. But, it definitely feels good having three of four points."

There are plenty of signs of positivity as the Lightning prepare for the final 26 games of the regular season.

The goaltending is the best it's been all season. Ben Bishop has won three-consecutive starts for the first time this season and had a season-long shutout streak of 132:13 in the process. Andrei Vasilevskiy was spectacular in his start in Minnesota, making 37-of-38 saves and single-handedly supplying the Lightning with a point they could ill afford to lose.

The Bolts' back line has been reborn with the emergence of rookie Jake Dotchin. The 22 year old was a virtual unknown to those who aren't well versed in the prospects scene but has started every game since being recalled from AHL Syracuse and has partnered seamlessly with Victor Hedman on the Bolts' top defensive pairing, allowing Anton Stralman to slot down into the second pair and giving the Bolts greater depth throughout their pairings.

The Lightning have given up just five goals over their last four games, the least they've given up over a four-game stretch this season.

And offensively, the Bolts have scored three or more goals - typically their benchmark to winning games - in three of their last four, highlighted by the continued brilliance of Drouin, who is developing into a player worth the price of admission alone in his third pro year, and the emergence of rookie Brayden Point, who has scored in four of six games since returning from an upper-body injury that forced him to sit for 14 games.

For the first time in a long time, the Lightning are getting consistent performances from all three phases of the game.

And with 15 of the 26 games following the bye week coming at AMALIE Arena and 11 of those games versus teams from the Atlantic, a division the Lightning have, at least the past couple of seasons, fared much better against than any other division, the Bolts appear to be right back in the thick of the playoff chase.

Who could have foreseen this outcome two weeks ago when all hope appeared lost?

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