Behind the 3-0 start
You have to like the way the Lightning beat the Panthers on Wednesday. Okay, perhaps that's a bit strong as the team was outplayed by what really is a quicker team. Still, the factors that led to victory were so out of the ordinary for this team, it gives you another reason to believe they might actually have something here.
Consider Johan Holmqvist stole two points with his 30 saves and improved to a .945 save percentage and a 1.33 goals-against average. The Lightning was 0-30-1 in games last season in which it scored fewer than three goals. It hadn't won a game like that since April 6, 2006, when Sean Burke neat the Penguins 1-0.
Then there was the defense. It battled like crazy and did a great job clearing the few rebounds Holmqvist allowed. Nine players blocked 13 shots, led by Filip Kuba's four. And with Chris Gratton's two goals, the team got all its production out of its third line. When was the last time any Lightning team could say that; that Vinny's line, which did not play well, was picked up by a third or fourth line? We probably have to go all the way back to Dave Andrecyhuk's days.
Sure, you can lament the bad passing, the lack of energy, being pinned in the defensive zone for big portions of the game, Lecavalier's two missed breakaways . The fact is, good teams win games like this. Good teams win when they don't play at their best. Yes, it's just the 0-3 Panthers, but recall what they did to Tampa Bay last season, winning five of eight, the last three, the last four of five and the last two at the St. Pete Times Forum.
As Panthers coach Jacques Martin said before the game, "They seem to bring out the best in us.''
Gratton, who played last season for the Panthers and was acquired by Tampa Bay with a second-round draft pick, said it was something else.
"They play a real defensive style,'' he said of Florida. "Tampa plays a high-tempo offensive game. It's almost the opposite. They (the Panthers) just clog the neutral zone.''
So the Lightning is 3-0. Last times it was that was 2002-03 and 2003-04. Both years the team won the Southeast. Can it go 4-0? We'll see Saturday in Florida. The Lightning is a good bet. Tampa Bay will almost certainly come out better than it did. The Panthers likely cannot play any better.