The Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the best teams in the NHL over the last month of the season.
Since February 3, the Bolts own an 8-2-2 record for the fourth-best points percentage in the league (.750) over that stretch.
In their last outing, the Lightning prevailed in a defensive battle in Buffalo, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each converting in a shootout - Kucherov in spectacular fashion - to supply the needed scores in a 2-1 shootout victory.
"I think we did a lot of good things in Buffalo," said the Lightning's Victor Hedman, who leads the NHL for power-play points by a defenseman, recording 4-21-25. "We played the right way and eliminated their Grade-A chances, so we've got to play the same way tonight. It doesn't matter if it's home or away, we've got to think about our own net first, and that's going to be a big key for tonight."
Video: Cooper on matchup with NYR
Hedman said the reason for the Lightning's recent surge is their dedication to playing the right way, something that started on their six-game road trip that began in California and ended in Sunrise against the Panthers. Since that trip, the Bolts have gradually climbed in the standings. Entering tonight's game against the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay sits just three points back of the New York Islanders for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning trail Boston by six points for third place in the Atlantic Division but own a game in hand.
"We're playing good defensively and obviously we know we're going to get chances offensively and we've got the skill and the depth on this team to score goals," Hedman said. "We've got some good help from obviously great goaltending. Vasy, since he took over, he's been phenomenal. We need that down the stretch, and we need both him and Budaj to play well when they're called upon. It's all about the whole team. We've got to play (well) in front of them and that's what we've been doing the last four games."
REVENGE AGAINST THE RANGERS: The last time Tampa Bay and the Rangers played, the Lighting were thrashed 6-1 at Madison Square Garden on October 30 in what was maybe their worst performance of the season. New York scored six-consecutive goals and were only denied a shutout when Steven Stamkos scored on the power play with 3:24 remaining in the game.
Video: Johnson on revenge factor vs. NYR
The Lightning will get their first crack at revenge against the Rangers tonight, but that blowout loss happened so long ago, the Bolts say it will have little bearing on tonight's outcome.
"You don't really think about it too much, but we've just got to play the way we know we can play," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "We weren't happy with what we did last game against them obviously, but our team changed here. We're playing a lot better hockey than what we were at that point. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing. We know New York's a really good team. They're going to get their opportunities, but it's up to us to limit them and also create some in our transition game."
The Rangers own the league's best away record at 22-8-0. New York is on a three-game road winning streak and has won seven of its last eight road games.
"We're playing the best road team in the league," Hedman said. "We've just got to put a stop to that, and hopefully we'll get the result we need tonight. We just need dedication from everyone and everyone paying the price, and I think we're going to get that."
POISED POINT: Lightning rookie center Brayden Point improved to 5-for-7 in shootouts with his successful attempt Saturday night in Buffalo.
Video: TBL@BUF: Point snipes one past Lehner in the shootout
Point leads all NHL rookies for shootout game-deciding goals (2). His conversion at Buffalo gave the Lightning their first road victory in a shootout this season and a very badly needed two points.
After the Bolts' morning skate Monday ahead of the game against the Rangers, Point said he hasn't had too many shootout opportunities coming into this season but his work against Andrei Vasilevskiy in practice has played a major role in his success.
"Most practice days at the end of the practice, we'll do a shootout," he said. "I think Vasilevskiy is one of the best shootout goalies I've ever faced. It's good to practice on him."
ICE CHIPS: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos continues to join the team for morning skate, but head coach Jon Cooper didn't have an update when he might be able to return to the lineup. "We're not even in a spot to sit here and throw a date on him," Cooper said…Andrei Vasilevskiy was the first goalie off the ice from the Lightning's morning skate Monday and will likely start for the Bolts tonight against the Rangers. Vasilevskiy has won his last three starts and is looking to tie a season high with his fourth-consecutive victory tonight…Nikita Kucherov was named the NHL's First Star of the Week on Monday after recording five goals and four assists over his last four games. Kucherov is on a six-game point streak (7-7-14), tied for the longest of the season for the Bolts (also: Tyler Johnson - Nov. 15-25), and can own the top point streak outright with another point tonight.