The Tampa Bay Lightning sent a message to the rest of the league with a pair of decisive victories over the weekend, dominating the Nashville Predators 6-2 on Saturday while soundly defeating the Florida Panthers on Sunday by a score of 8-4. The Lightning have scored 22 goals in their last three games, all coming against playoff teams.
Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Panthers were 22-2-1 in their last 25 games and had a 13-game winning streak before losing to Tampa Bay.
The Lightning are on quite a roll, as they have set a new franchise record for total goals scored over a three-game span with the 22 goals scored over their last three contests. Their previous high was 18.
Stamkos and Kucherov Leading the Lightning’s Recent Offensive Surge
Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have picked the right time to lead the Tampa Bay offense. After steamrolling Toronto 8-1, the Lightning turned around and had another dominant offensive performance on Saturday with a 6-2 win over Nashville. Stamkos and Kucherov both tallied three points in Saturday night’s win, while Victor Hedman added two points. The power play stayed hot for the Lightning too, scoring in each of their two power-play attempts. Their power play was clicking at 50 percent over their last four games before then. Sunday night’s win saw Stamkos and Kucherov netting two goals each for the Bolts. Stamkos extended his multipoint-game streak to six. In all, the Lightning had 10 skaters registering points, something that is crucial to continue if they want their red-hot offense to continue into future contests.
Before the offensive outburst in the last three games, Tampa Bay was slightly down from the regular-season editions of those two championship teams, as they ranked ninth in scoring with its lowest relative goals per game in a regular season since 2016-17. The Lightning’s recent goal outburst could signal a trend that happened last year. Last season, their offense declined somewhat during the regular season, ranking eighth in league scoring (Kucherov was sidelined for the entire year). However, they did rebound in the playoffs after he returned for another stellar postseason run.
Hedman Continues to Shine for the Lightning
On Saturday night, Victor Hedman became just the second defenseman in Lightning history to score 20 goals in a single season, joining Dan Boyle who had 20 during the 2006-07 season. After Saturday’s game, Hedman has nine points (one goal, eight assists) in a four-game point streak.
The play of Stamkos, Kucherov, and Hedman has allowed other Lightning players the opportunity to contribute on offense. Hedman’s unselfish play resulted in four assists in Sunday night’s victory. Anthony Cirelli and Ross Colton scored on Saturday night while Nicholas Paul (two goals), Cal Foote, and Brayden Point added goals on Sunday night. This means that teams will not just be able to focus on Stamkos, Kucherov, and Hedman to contain the Lightning’s now potent attack.
“Balanced scoring — it’s pivotal and if you want to go anywhere in the playoffs you need more than a couple of guys scoring,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said in his post-game news conference on Saturday. “I look at the guys that have 20 or more (goals) or close to 20, and it’s a big reason for our success.”
Lightning Starting to Improve on Defense as Well
Brian Elliott got the start in the first of the back-to-back games and allowed just two goals to Nashville on Saturday night, both of them coming on the power play. The defense played very in front of him, containing the Predators’ big scorers. After the game on Saturday, Cooper praised his team on their improved defense, something that needs to continue if Tampa Bay wants to make a deep run in the playoffs.
“If we are going to do anything, we have to look after our own end,” he said. “I love our (goaltending) tandem, but I don’t care who’s in net. If you’re not defending, they can only do so much.”
The biggest takeaway for Tampa Bay’s defense on Sunday was that they battled in front of their net, avoided long periods of time in their own defensive end, and successfully killed off the first five penalties before allowing a third-period Panthers power-play goal.
Even though the Lightning gave up four goals against Florida, defending the Panthers was no easy task. They are easily one of the most dangerous offensive teams of the season as they have scored five goals or more in 32 games this season. They are also one of the best come-from-behind teams. Their expected goal generation (3.18 per 60) ranks third in the league, while the Lightning came into the game ranked eighth in fewest goals allowed per game. While Andrei Vasilevskiy is an outstanding goalie, they still need to play well in front of him. He stopped 37 of the 41 shots he faced, but the concerning part is that the Panthers did manage to get over 40 shots on goal.
The Lightning’s next game is at home on Tuesday, but they will not be staying there after the game. They will be flying to Washington, invited by President Joe Biden to visit the White House on Monday in celebration of their 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup victories.
Quote of the Weekend
Nick Paul on snapping the Panthers‘ 13-game winning streak: “We knew the streak they were on and we wanted to come here and be the ones who ended it.”
Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators for THW. A retired Special Education Teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he is not slashing his way around local golf courses. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Jim on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/baysports007)