TAMPA — The Lightning tried — it really did — to downplay the significance of Thursday's showdown with the Blackhawks.
But coach Jon Cooper stated the obvious: This one meant a little more, especially considering Tampa Bay still feels the sting of the Blackhawks snatching the Stanley Cup from it in June.
"We remember the feeling," wing Ryan Callahan said. "I'd be lying to you if I didn't say you have an extra jump or extra energy when you play these guys."
It showed in the Lightning's 2-1 victory in front of 19,092 at Amalie Arena, a game that was more one-sided than the scoreboard indicated. Tampa Bay considered this a measuring-stick moment, and by snapping Chicago's franchise-record 12 game winning streak, it validated how far it has come this season by extending its winning streak to seven in a row.
And Tampa Bay (26-17-4), just one point behind the Panthers for first place in the Atlantic Division heading into Sunday's game in Sunrise, showed why this game against the Blackhawks could have been a preview of a Cup final rematch.
The Lightning held Chicago to a season-low 18 shots, displaying its suffocating blend of speed and skill.
"That's probably one of our best games this year," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "I thought for 60 minutes, we played a hell of a hockey game. This is the standard we want to set going forward."
Wing Ondrej Palat said he believes the Lightning got its swagger back during this winning streak, playing like it did last season. And Tampa Bay didn't flinch when it fell behind 1-0 just 43 seconds into the game on a goal by Artem Anisimov.
"By no means did we dip at all," Callahan said. "We kept going."
"There was no, 'Oh, no, what's going to happen here?' " Cooper said. "It was. 'Dig your heels in the sand and let's go.' That's what they did."
The shutdown line of Callahan-J.T. Brown-Valtteri Filppula was the Lightning's best, holding Chicago captain Jonathan Toews' top line to two combined shots. Tampa Bay defensemen continued to provided an offensive spark, with Anton Stralman deflecting a Hedman point shot seven minutes into the first to tie the score.
And the special teams were again a difference. The penalty kill units went 3-for-3 — two of the kills were in the third — and Nikita Kucherov's power-play goal in the second proved to be the winner.
It was a complete performance.
"We know we have that in us the whole year," Stralman said. "We just haven't been able to put it out there. And you saw it tonight how effective it was."
The only place the Blackhawks had an advantage was in the stands, where a good portion of the crowd was wearing red. It was an electric atmosphere, a tight game, Cooper saying it reminded him of the Stanley Cup final.
"I would trade what happened tonight for what they took from us last year," Cooper said. "But one streak was ending tonight, and I'm glad it was theirs."
Contact Joe Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Chicago, Anisimov 17 (Kane), :43. 2, Tampa Bay, Stralman 6 (Hedman, Filppula), 7:14. Penalties—Hossa, Chi (holding), 15:40.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 20 (Hedman, Killorn), 16:39 (pp). Penalties—Palat, TB (hooking), 6:20; Kane, Chi (high-sticking), 12:44; Kane, Chi (interference), 14:47.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Filppula, TB (face-off violation), :00; Killorn, TB (tripping), 10:38; Chicago bench, served by Panarin (too many men), 12:53. Shots on Goal—Chicago 4-5-9—18. Tampa Bay 13-10-10—33. Power-play opportunities—Chicago 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 4. Goalies—Chicago, Crawford 27-11-2 (33 shots-31 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 19-13-3 (18-17). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:22. Referees—Dan O'Rourke, Graham Skilliter. Linesmen—Jonny Murray, Michel Cormier.