TAMPA — This season has been a struggle for the defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning. Injuries combined with a slow start have had it trying to play catchup in the conference race. As it nears the All-Star break, Tampa Bay used a four-game road trip that ended Tuesday to ignite its play.
Tampa Bay has won three straight, and with five of its next six and 11 of its next 14 games at home, it looks to get on its first extended roll of the season. The Lightning goes for a season-best fourth consecutive victory tonight against the Penguins at Amalie Arena.
"It's funny," coach Jon Cooper said. "We lose the first one (on the trip) to Calgary … and then we're down 2-0 going into the third against Edmonton and we're staring almost at a 0-2 start. And all of a sudden I thought we kind of earned our bounces in the third against Edmonton (a 3-2 win) and took off from there. What started off as a nerve-racking trip turned into a successful one.
"And so now, we have six games before the All-Star break, and five of them are at home. We have to take care of business here. It starts with a team (Pittsburgh) that pretty much is in the exact same position as we are. We're battling for a (playoff) spot with them, and we have to find a way. We can't sit here and say we've won a couple in a row. We're the one team that I don't think has really gone on any sort of run. We've started one here, and now we have to keep this going."
Forward Brian Boyle said the Lightning has started to get healthy and that has helped its play.
"We haven't been consistent this year," he said. "We've played some good hockey in spurts. We need to do it every game.
"We laid a few eggs last year, but for the most part we were pretty dominant at home. This year it's different. We've played some good hockey recently, so we're going to try to bottle that up and try to be as consistent as we can."
One key for the Lightning has been scoring. Tampa Bay has scored at least three goals in each game of its winning streak. Three appears to be its magic number. When the Lightning has scored at least three goals, it has gained points in 15 of 16 games (13-1-2).
Forward Tyler Johnson said it hopes to keep that going on this important homestand.
"This season we've struggled a little bit, especially compared to last year," he said. "It's just a matter of playing the same way we know we can play and be confident with yourself."