Only in the NHL is it possible to be one of the best teams over a ten game stretch and not make up any ground. That’s exactly what’s happening to the Tampa Bay Lightning right now. 7-1-2 in their last ten, the Bolts have been playing some inspired hockey. Whether it’s players fighting for jobs, looking to get traded to a contender or just simply fighting for a playoff spot, people are playing well right now. A huge win in Buffalo last night cements the Lightning in the middle of a playoff race that should be incredibly exciting down the stretch. Another two points tonight against one of the league’s powerhouse teams and it’s game on, folks.
Last night, the Lightning came out and did exactly what they needed to in order to take two points from Buffalo. The Bolts came out quick and peppered Ryan Miller with 12 shots in the first frame; it was the exact start the guys needed after a couple of demoralizing losses. The hard work in the first paid off. Momentum from that first period carried over into the second and Steve Downie potted his 50th career goal (9th of the season) from Hedman and Stamkos. It was actually a really nifty play if you watch it closely; Downie showed that he does indeed have soft hands as he maneuvered the puck in tight to put it past Miller. If Downie could play between the whistles, and not after them, for 60 minutes, he would be an incredibly effective hockey player.
Later in the second, Stamkos would pot his 37th(!!) of the season. On TSN the other night, Stamkos was mentioned in regards to goal scoring. The commentator mentioned that he was astounded that such a great goal-scoring season was going so unrecognized throughout the league. Here’s a guy who is on pace to score 56 goals after a slow-ish start to the season. Fans, we are witnessing something really spectacular with this guy. Mark my words; in a few years, his contract is going to look like an absolute bargain.
It wasn’t until the third period started that the Sabres really started gaining momentum. They put 14 shots on Garon but he was more than equal to the task. The third period was not without its tense moments as Garon had to come up HUGE on a couple of occasions. He stoned a number of Sabres players point-blank with huge pad saves. For a guy who took a lot of flak early in the season, he has put together a nice little run here (6-0-2 in last 8 starts). Unfortunately, the much deserved shutout was not to be when Jason Pominville put his 20th past Garon late in the period.
Despite letting a late goal in, the Lightning closed out the third and took home the two points. It was a deserved victory giving the Lightning 3 victories against the Sabres this season. Here are some post-game notes:
* For a team with so many defensive issues, the Lightning have a surprisingly superb record in one-goal games (14-2-6). The Lightning also moved to 16-1-1 when leading after two periods. Both of those records are going to become incredibly relevant down the stretch as the games get that much tighter.
* Victor Hedman logged a team high in the ice-time category just a few games back from injury. I got into a little disagreement with someone on one of Eklund’s blogs about Hedman’s worth. How many young D-men, with size, can play that many minutes really effectively? Moreover, how many can skate, and move the puck like Hedman? Not too many.
* The Lightning did a great job of standing up at the blueline and not allowing any Sabres forward entry into the zone. With good stick work and physicality, the Lightning were able to protect Garon all night long. That kind of team defense is what this team needs considering the blue-line core isn’t exactly the strongest in the league.
* Overall, last night’s performance is exactly what this group needed. They took home another two points and are back at it tonight in Pittsburgh. I pegged this one as a loss in my predictions earlier in the month, but now I’m not so certain. There’s no two ways about this; the Bolts are playing well right now.
As mentioned, the Lightning are in Pittsburgh tonight to take on the Penguins in the second game of back-to-backs. Before we assume that will hurt the Bolts, it should be noted that the Pens played last night against the Winnipeg Jets and won 8-5 (thank-you, Penguins). The question becomes, which team will be more tired tonight? On the one hand, you have the Lightning who played a hard-fought, playoff-like battle against the Sabres. On the other hand, the Penguins were in a high-flying match against the Jets. This could get interesting.
Just as the Lightning are hot, the Penguins have put together a nice little stretch over their last ten games (7-2-1). Even without Sidney Crosby, Dan Bylsma has this team playing hard, fast and skilled hockey. How many teams could lose their best player and still play like the Penguins have been playing? Okay, now how many of those teams have Evgeni Malkin as their second best player? Exactly. He’s big, he’s smart and he’s one of the most skilled players in the league; the Lightning are going to have to be incredibly careful with Malkin tonight. He’s the league’s leading point-scorer and you can bet he will be ready to take on the Lightning D core tonight.
Guy Boucher didn’t reveal who his starter will be tonight, but I can’t imagine that this game can go to anyone but Garon. As mentioned earlier, the guy is 6-0-2 in his last 8 starts and he is on an absolute roll. Despite being on the second half of back-to-backs, this should be Garon’s game. My sentiments are echoed by many respected hockey writers in the Twitter-verse but only time will tell what happens.
Hopefully you are all looking forward to tonight’s game; it should be a good one. My prediction was 7-3-2 to close out the month and so far the Lightning are 1-1-1 (since I made the predictions). Could tonight be the second win? Let’s hope so Bolts Nation!
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If Pittsburgh comes into tonights game, after beating the brakes off of the Peg with the same attitude they had in game 5 last Playoffs then yes we have a chance to win
I have apologize in advance Michael. I just lit a stick of TNT and threw it into the Penguins message board. They were talking about Lecavaliers punch of Malkin and I had to chime in. You may have angry Penguins fans coming over to post. Sorry.
Agreed, Artyukhin! We've got a chance here. Ahaha, no worries on that front. I look forward to it.
Should be a good one, nice read.
I used to enjoy watching the Blots play with their up tempo game but now, they have turned into one of the most boring teams in the East.... too bad
JoeSabre: Obviously as a Bolts fan, I'm a little biased here, but I don't agree with you. The Bolts still play an up-tempo style with three of the best offensive players in the game. Last night's game was not what we've seen a lot of this season. Chalk it up to two teams fighting for position in the standings, but that was not Bolts hockey.
Can we say ASS KICKING boys and girls? I can't listen anymore.
I don't think any team has an answer for Malkin right now.
All Pens in the second period. Malkin is an absolute beast; a man in a league of boys. I'll take a lot of flak for saying this, but I think he's a better player than Crosby. He brings that physical edge that Crosby just can't.
I don't think you deserve any flak for saying that. However I think people forget just how dominating 87 was last season before the concussion. He had the same amount of goals as Ovechkin(32) in just 41 games.
Malkin scored his 32nd goal tonight in his 49th game. Truthfully I'm just happy they both play on my team.
Crosby was absolutely phenomenal last season before the injury. It was going to be a record breaking year for sure. Personally, I just view Malkin as the more complete player due to the physical side of things.
The only advantage that Malkin has definitively over Crosby is reach. Crosby is the smarter player (not saying 71 isn't smart). Malkin has some brain farts in his puck decisions at times. Crosby is more consistent with playing a complete game. Remember 87 hasn't had the chance to play with someone like Neal since Hossa.
Garon did everything he could to keep us in it. They failed him, and he paid for it. Hope is fading for us and our playoff hopes. I am viewing Tokarski more and more as the 1a/1b with Garon. He still has some consistency issues, but if he finishes the season strong and has a good playoffs, I can see him in Bolt blue.
Yous will need a record that is maybe something like 19-5-3 to get in.
I respcet Malkin for is doninance lately but at the end of the game he sat at the red line waiting for a puck to come so he could get an empty netter hatty. That to me is just arrogant and classless. Sure i might sound jealous do to the loss but when was the last time you saw Stamkos sitting around waiting for a puck at the red line.
Oomroy, The year Stamkos tied crosby for the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals, last game of the season, Stamkos standing at the blue line waiting for a pass, got it, put it into the empty net to share the Rocket Trophy, now you want to talk about classless?
Malkin also worked his ass off that same shift, behind the TB empty net, and getting physical with a TB player or 2 trying to get it. He was dead tired, he deserves that opportunity from time to time. TB sure does complain alot about opposing players...(Omark's shootout goal, Anisimov's celebration, Vinny sucker punching Malkin after he missed a check, now this?!?!) grow a set boys, you sound like whiny trolls. Enjoy golfing in April/May
All fine and dandy to have differing opinions, but come on Ryman, let's not make things personal. It's not a flattering color on you.
He's still pissed over getting bounced last season, let him cry. His captian does it ALL THE TIME!
If my memory serves me right, The faceoff was in our end and Vinny won the faceoff and slapped it to the blue line for a race which Stamkos won and potted the empty netter. Plus he was a 19 year old kid making the best of a crappy season. Once Cindy returns Malkin will disapear cause he wont be the man anymore. I love messing with Pen fans so easy to get wound up.
Ahahah plus-1 Artyukhin.
It's all in good fun Micheal, I have to deal with these guys all the time down here. Once they get bounced they put there Bolt jerseys back on. It's honestly commical at times but annoying at the same time. I'm sure they are real Pen fans chiming in but they are just following there leader like Artyukin said.
Come on Yzerman we need a back up goalie to Garon help ?
Yeah, you bounced us in the playoffs last year, congrats on beating a M.A.S.H. unit. Let's play again this year, with both teams at full capacity and see what you got. I would venture to say the outcome would be much different. Plus you guys could get drowned out in your own building by Pens fans, again.
You're one to talk. Before Crysby, penguins were almost a canadian team. Go lay an egg somewhere bandwagon boy.