WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Coach Jon Cooper bluntly drove the point home during a Saturday morning team meeting:
Get to the net.
The Lightning has recently been too much of a perimeter team offensively. And that cost it critical points in four 2-1 losses over seven games.
That wasn't going to cut it for a team fighting for its playoff life.
But Tampa Bay showed it got the message in Saturday's 4-1 win over the Jets at the MTC Center. Brayden Point was in the crease for the tone-setting first goal of the game, and Brian Boyle redirected a shot for the second.
"When we're attacking the net, that's when we're at our best," Cooper said.
The Lightning (25-24-7) is playing some of its best hockey, having won three of its past four games as it heads into a five-day bye week. It has points in four straight games for the first time since a mid-November four-game winning streak.
But as encouraging as this stretch has been for Tampa Bay, the team hasn't made up much ground in the standings. It is five points behind Boston for the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Now it has to be idle, scoreboard watch and likely drop in the standings.
"We're winning just to stay where we are," Boyle said.
Cooper said a key part of Saturday's win was getting the lead, with a dazzling shift by Jonathan Drouin midway through the first period setting the tone.
It began with a backcheck. Drouin darted from behind the Winnipeg net to strip forward Blake Wheeler in the left circle. He then circled around the zone, blazed past two Jets, including forward Mark Scheifele, and dropped a pass at the back post to Point.
"Just instincts," Drouin said. And a whole lot of skill.
"Once he gets the puck in the offensive zone and has a little bit of time and space, he can do some magical things," Cooper said. "A heck of a play."
Said Boyle: "Fun to watch, really."
Boyle got the next goal, stepping into the slot to redirect a Victor Hedman point shot. Ondrej Palat's goal off a rush early in the second helped seal the win. And goalie Ben Bishop did the rest with 32 saves.
Tampa Bay's goaltending has been excellent lately, Bishop following up Tuesday's shutout against the Kings with Saturday's performance. Andrei Vasilevskiy racked up 37 saves in Friday's shootout loss in Minnesota. Tampa Bay has allowed four regulation goals in the past four games. "It's giving us a chance to win hockey games," Cooper said.
And Saturday, the offense finally didn't hold back Tampa Bay. Even without center Tyler Johnson (lower body) for the second straight game, the Lightning kept coming, Hedman's empty-netter sealing it in the final minute.
Now Tampa Bay gets some rest. Some players will head out of town for relaxing vacations, knowing plenty of work is left to be done.
"Ever since that West Coast trip (last month), we've been playing good hockey," Bishop said. "Sometimes we haven't been rewarded. (Saturday) we did a good job getting to the net, getting tips, and pretty goals and kind of everything. Hopefully we can keep building on this."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Point 7 (Drouin), 12:05. 2, Tampa Bay, Boyle 13 (Dotchin, Hedman), 17:02. Penalties—Kucherov, TB, (hooking), 1:24.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Palat 11 (Sustr, Point), 2:11. Penalties—Dotchin, TB, (tripping), 3:53; Byfuglien, WPG, (high sticking), 9:43; Dumont, TB, (roughing), 20:00; Byfuglien, WPG, (roughing), 20:00.
Third Period—4, Winnipeg, Trouba 5 (Wheeler, Byfuglien), 11:15. 5, Tampa Bay, Hedman 8 (Paquette, Palat), 19:24. Penalties—Namestnikov, TB, (holding), 3:01; Morrissey, WPG, (hooking), 12:13. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 14-9-7—30. Winnipeg 8-12-13—33. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Winnipeg 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 14-12-3 (33 shots-32 saves). Winnipeg, Hellebuyck 17-15-1 (29-26).