Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lightning good at bringing out worst in foes

Lightning center Tyler Johnson, front, sneaks the puck past Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer to score in the first period.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Lightning center Tyler Johnson, front, sneaks the puck past Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer to score in the first period.

TAMPA — Okay, so this one stings just a little.

Down two goals. Battling back to tie the score in the third period. Dominating much of the night. Then losing on a goal in the final minute.

All in all, that's the kind of punch to the gut that the Lightning hasn't felt much this season.

But don't let the Lightning's disappointing 4-3 loss to the Capitals on Thursday night get you too down.

Because if we have learned anything this season — well, other than goalie Ben Bishop needs to get back as soon as possible and play as many games as possible — it's that the Lightning is the luckiest team in hockey.

Haven't you heard?

"This is probably the worst we played," Jets coach Claude Noel said after the Lightning won in Winnipeg earlier this week.

"It was our worst game of the year," Canucks coach John Tortorella said after the Lightning beat its old coach last week.

"It was probably the worst game since I've been here, for sure," Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said after a loss to the Lightning just before Christmas.

While the rest of the NHL has to fight, scratch and claw for every precious victory and every treasured point, apparently all the Lightning has to do is throw its sticks on the ice and collect two points, knowing the other team can't skate from here to there without falling while circus music plays over the loudspeakers.

"Yeah, that is the common theme," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

Or wait, and I'm just spit-balling here, but maybe there's a little more to the Lightning's success than hapless opponents and great timing.

"I also think (that when a team plays poorly) sometimes it has a little bit to do with the other team," Cooper said.

He pauses, smiles slightly and adds a sarcastic zinger: "Fortunately for us, we've caught teams on bad nights, I guess."

When Cooper arrived late last season, his mission statement was simple. He wanted the Lightning to be a difficult team to face.

He wanted teams to see Tampa Bay on the schedule and get a pit in their stomachs and an ache in their heads.

That mission statement, so far, is a mission accomplished.

The Lightning is a hard team to play, certainly harder than when Cooper first took over.

"No question," Cooper said. "Are we the big, bad Bolts? Do we go in the corner and beat everybody up? We're not that (kind of) harder. But we're a faster, more puck possession, more dynamic team. Our structure is in place now. Guys know what they're doing. They know the standard they have to play to. They know what's expected of them.

"And that makes you harder to play against."

Lightning forward Tyler Johnson added, "A good word to use is relentless. We're a relentless team."

The Lightning has no business being where it is now. Even with Thursday's loss, the team remains entrenched in the playoff pack and challenging the Bruins for top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Superstar Steven Stamkos has been out nearly two months with a broken right leg. The Lightning has gotten not nearly enough from Teddy Purcell and pretty much nothing from the oft-injured Ryan Malone.

Every time you look up, another rookie is coming up from the minors and climbing over the boards. Eight have become regulars this season.

Yet it doesn't matter what adversity comes along — the Stamkos injury, the Marty St. Louis Olympic-snub controversy and, now, a hand injury to Bishop — the Lightning laces up the skates and makes another team look bad, even Thursday in a loss. The Lightning outshot the Caps 36-20 and would have won if goalie Anders Lindback was a little better in the first period.

This team's work ethic all goes back to the second game of the season, a shootout victory against the Blackhawks. The Lightning won, but the Blackhawks dominated the game.

"They were really tough to play against that night," Johnson said. "We couldn't do much of anything. I thought that was an experience for us to learn from. We've tried to mimic that, and I think we've done pretty well."

Bishop has been the MVP. St. Louis and Valterri Filppula have been outstanding. And the rookies have helped keep the Lightning above water since Stamkos went down.

"I think everyone had their doubts when (the Stamkos injury) first sunk in," Lindback said. "But we came together pretty fast. … Other guys stepped up."

The rookies are putting up more than two points per game. Over the past 20 years, only two teams had more of a contribution from their rookies — the 1994-95 Ducks, which had Paul Kariya, and the 2005-06 Penguins, which had Sidney Crosby.

"I think it surprised me a little bit in how well we've played after (Stamkos' injury)," Johnson said. "But at the same time, I didn't think we were going to tank it. I never thought we were a one-man team. A lot of people thought that, and we were fine with everyone thinking we were going to tank it. But we knew we were going to be fine, and luckily, we've done pretty well."

And, luckily, they seem to play plenty of teams having their worst games of the season.

Lightning good at bringing out worst in foes 01/09/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 9, 2014 11:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Perfection's not easy in baseball, just ask Calvary Christian

    Baseballpreps

    CLEARWATER — Of the more than 300 varsity high school baseball teams in Florida, only one has won every game this season: Calvary Christian. The Warriors are a perfect 28-0.

    Calvary Christian's Matheu Nelson (63) prepares to take an at bat during the first inning of Wednesday's (5/10/17) region baseball semifinal game between Trinity Prep and Calvary Christian in Clearwater.
  2. Rays shut out Angels to cap homestand, get back to .500 (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays completed their seven-game homestand Thursday with a 4-0 victory against the Angels, a win that moved them back to .500 for the season.

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) after they score on the single by center fielder Colby Rasmus (28) in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Thursday, May 25, 2017.
  3. Bucs suspended RB Doug Martin breaks his silence and says his drug problem is 'definitely behind me.'

    Blogs

    He would not talk about the drug he abused. He didn’t identify the rehab facility he entered last January or how long he was there.

    Doug Martin was contrite but optimistic about returning to the form he demonstrated as the NFL's second leading rusher two years ago.
  4. Kickoff times announced for Florida-Michigan, FSU-Alabama

    Blogs

    College football's blockbuster Sept. 2 season openers finally have kickoff times.

  5. Why not Kaepernick?: Ryan Fitzpatrick could be ‘Earl Morrall to Jameis Winston’s Bob Griese’

    Blogs

    As the football world continues to question the Bucs’ motives for signing Ryan Fitzpatrick over Colin Kaepernick as Jameis Winston’s backup, veteran NFL writer Rick Gosselin weighs in with this post titled “The Bucs are playing a mind …

    The Bucs want Ryan Fitzpatrick to mentor Jameis Winston.