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A huge step forward



It wasn't so much that the Lightning won two straight road games, it is that it won two straight in arenas that have been houses of horrors the past few seasons. Tampa Bay snapped a 0-5-1 streak at the Air Canada Center, and beat back memories of seven- and six-goal periods by the Sabres at HSBC Arena.

And if you don't think such things make a difference, check out the way the team played in Buffalo after beating the Maple Leafs. In that sense, it will be interesting to see how Tampa Bay does Saturday at home against the Senators.

It will be another test. Ottawa generally handles the Lightning, but the signs, for now, anyway, are on the upswing. And it is amazing, isn't it, after all the worry and negativity, the team is third in the Southeast with a 3-3-3 record that has to be considered a noteworthy accomplishment.

So, take these signs for what they are worth:

The Lightning held the Sabres to just 31 shots and had a team-high 40. Tampa Bay was as quick as Buffalo, a team that ran rings around the Lightning the past few years. The defense is better (thumbs up to Mike Lundin), and it is so, in part, because the forwards are engaged in the defensive zone. Toward that end, props to Vinny Prospal, who is setting an example for his linemates in that area. Olaf Kolzig is a brilliant backup in goal.

Most important, you are starting to see what the team can do offensively. It still is a work in progress, but Vinny Lecavalier's line was flying against the Sabres and Steven Stamkos' line is starting to show signs of life.

"We are quietly turning into a good hockey team," coach Barry Melrose said.

Wait for the bumps, because they will come, but the trajectory has generally been up the past four games. That's more than could be said after the first four.

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]


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