TAMPA — Apparently, the Lightning didn't need a shakeup trade to turn its fortunes around.
All it took was a spark from Syracuse.
Desperate for wins, and down several regular forwards, the Lightning received a much-needed boost thanks to call-ups from AHL Syracuse. The prospects, such as Jonathan Marchessault and Joel Vermin, injected life in the Lightning (10-9-3), which has won two straight games for the first time since starting 3-0.
"Sometimes, when you have those injuries, you have callups, and it brings the team together," goalie Ben Bishop said. "You play a team game, and I think we've done that the last two (games)."
Said captain Steven Stamkos: "They've been outstanding."
It certainly looked daunting when the Lightning, having lost eight of its previous 11, headed into Sunrise on Nov. 16 without key regulars Tyler Johnson (upper body), Jonathan Drouin (undisclosed) and Cedric Paquette (upper body), not to mention Ondrej Palat (left ankle), who is out several weeks.
But Tampa Bay, buoyed by Marchessault and Mike Blunden, along with defenseman Matt Taormina, played arguably its most complete game of the season before losing 1-0 to the Panthers in the final 20 seconds.
Instead of the loss being a crushing blow, Tampa Bay carried that style into Thursday's 2-1 win over the red-hot Rangers, with Vermin making his impressively poised NHL debut in place of injured former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan (lower body).
Regulars have stepped up, too, especially Vladislav Namestnikov taking a top-line role, Nikita Kucherov playing inspired on both ends and J.T. Brown rounding into a playmaker and agitator. Stamkos scored twice Saturday, and Bishop has allowed one goal in two games.
Cooper said that while the callups haven't played a ton of minutes, they've been valuable, and their energy has rubbed off on the veterans.
"Maybe you look back now the way we've been playing, maybe it was good for there to be different faces and a little bit of exuberance out there for these guys," Cooper said. "Because they're wide-eyed going out there, having fun playing and some of our guys are feeding off that."
With Callahan back Saturday and Johnson potentially returning Wednesday against the Kings, Marchessault and Vermin are the only callups remaining in Tampa Bay. Their status depends on the recovery of Drouin and Paquette, who are skating but not yet cleared for contact.
But Marchessault and Vermin have made it hard for Tampa Bay to send them back. Vermin, a 5-foot-11 wing, boasts speed and skill, fitting in well on a line with Kucherov and Namestnikov on Saturday. Vermin picked up his first NHL point, assisting on Kucherov's goal.
"It's really nice to see that I'm not too far away," Vermin said. "Now I saw what (is) the standard to play in the NHL, and it'll really help me."
Marchessault, who has played nine NHL games, has been a dangerous offensive threat, with nine combined shots in his past three games including a power-play goal Saturday. Marchessault, one of the final cuts in training camp, has been aggressive on the forecheck and in front of the net.
"Obviously it's unfortunate for the guys that are injured," Marchessault said. "But I think for guys like us, we get a different opportunity and we need to be able to play good and just chip in and be on the same page with the rest of the team. I think the three past games I've been here, the Lightning really played good.
"We were awesome for 60 minutes and it's fun to be on the winning side."