NEW YORK — The Lightning is knocking down records like bowling pins, but players and coaches aren’t paying attention, even though Tampa Bay got another one Wednesday.
Its 4-3 overtime win against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden was the Lightning’s franchise-record 10th straight victory.
“It seems like every win we’ve had here lately is the quickest to this or quickest to that, but it doesn’t really get discussed in this (locker) room,” captain Steven Stamkos said before the game. “We just come into games wanting to win.”
Monday, the Lightning became the fastest team to 100 points in over 40 years.
The Lightning had to work for its past three wins, though, needing to go past 60 minutes each time. The wins against the Sabres last Thursday and the Kings on Monday required shootouts.
In each of the past two games, the Lightning gave up a two-goal lead. Wednesday the Rangers scored twice in the second period after the Lightning went up 3-1 on a Dan Girardi goal 2:53 into the period. It took a rocket from Victor Hedman in overtime for the Lightning to win.
Hedman, Girardi and J.T. Miller pointed out the Lightning needed to be better in the second and third periods.
“We’re very happy in putting those wins together,” Girardi said about the 10-game winning streak, “but it’s no secret we needed to be better in the second and third. We have 18 more games to figure that out. If we played like we did in the first 60 (games), we’d be fine.”
The Lightning doesn’t have to manufacture motivation against the complacency of a 13-point lead in the league standings. It points out its flaws.
“I scored a goal (Wednesday). That doesn’t mean I played good,” Miller said. “That’s for sure.”
That’s how the team feels about its play as a whole. The Lightning is looking for wins, but it’s looking for the right kind of wins. It’s looking to play the right way, the way that’s going to win the Stanley Cup.
Some of the players know what a great season feels like. Several also played on the 2015 Lightning team that reached the Stanley Cup final against the Blackhawks. Five players starred for the Rangers when they reached the Stanley Cup final against the Kings in 2014, and three played for New York when it won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2015.
But they believe there’s something different about this team. But the details overpower the larger significance.
“You don’t see it coming when you’re involved in it,” coach Jon Cooper said before the game, “until people bring up the historical background of what’s happened.”
Then he hears his team thrown around in conversation with the 1977 and ‘78 Canadiens. Montreal had a dynasty in the ‘70s, particularly its four straight Cup wins from 1976-79. The 1977 team had 132 points, the most in NHL history, and the next year Montreal had 129.
The Lightning is on track for 130 points, which would be the third most in NHL history (the 1995-96 Red Wings had 131.)
“When you step back and think about that … it’s kind of cool,” Cooper said.
When Cooper was talking about stepping back to see where Tampa Bay is in league history, the track this team is on, he started and ended with the here and now of the season.
The Lightning’s place in history may be “kind of cool,” but it might not feel like much without the Cup at the end.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Johnson 22 (Kucherov, Stralman), 7:52. 2, Tampa Bay, Miller 12 (Hedman, Kucherov), 14:57 (pp). Penalties—Sergachev, TB, (hooking), 11:04 Skjei, NYR, (tripping), 14:33.
Second Period—3, N.Y. Rangers, Zibanejad 27 (Vesey, DeAngelo), 0:56. 4, Tampa Bay, Girardi 4 (Stamkos, Point), 2:53. 5, N.Y. Rangers, Vesey 16 (Claesson, Shattenkirk), 3:23. 6, N.Y. Rangers, Nieves 4 (Strome, Namestnikov), 14:14. Penalties—Lemieux, NYR, (roughing), 1:28 Buchnevich, NYR, Major (fighting), 1:28 Gourde, TB, Major (fighting), 1:28 Miller, TB, (slashing), 2:00 McDonagh, TB, (interference), 7:42 Paquette, TB, (roughing), 10:42 Miller, TB, (slashing), 17:57 Buchnevich, NYR, (tripping), 20:00.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Sergachev, TB, (hooking), 2:03.
Overtime—7, Tampa Bay, Hedman 8 (Kucherov, Stamkos), 3:25. Penalties—None.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 14-8-6-2_30. N.Y. Rangers 9-17-9-1_36.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 3 N.Y. Rangers 0 of 6.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 29-7-4 (36 shots-33 saves). N.Y. Rangers, Georgiev 10-10-1 (30-26).
A—17,012 (18,006). T—2:38.