NEWARK, N.J. — After scoring in Friday's Red Wings alumni game in Denver, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman heads back to Tampa this morning to meet with his staff and make final decisions ahead of Monday's trade deadline.
But Tampa Bay continues to make an argument that Yzerman can be okay standing pat.
The Lightning rattled off its fifth consecutive win Friday, beating the Devils 4-0 at the Prudential Center in what captain Steven Stamkos labeled "one of our better overall games." A tired New Jersey team might have gotten thumped worse had it not been for the stellar play of goalie Cory Schneider, who made 32 saves.
Tampa Bay (35-22-4) is rolling, having won 16 of its past 21 games to pull within three points of first place in the Atlantic Division with 74. Just as important, it moved seven points ahead of New Jersey, in ninth place and one spot out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, as the Lightning more resembled the defending Eastern Conference champion it is.
"We're comfortable with this group," Stamkos said. "We pretty much went to the (last season's Stanley Cup) final with the same group. It's not about how you're playing at the midway point of the season. It's how you build up to the end of the year and play hard down the stretch. And we're certainly on our way to doing that."
Stamkos is a big reason why. He extended his season-high goal streak to five games, two off his career high. Stamkos said that is not due as much to Yzerman saying this month he won't be traded or his move back to center as it is a return to the type of game that helped make him an elite scorer. That includes being a presence at the net, which Friday resulted in a deflection for his team-high 27th goal.
"I'm confident right now," Stamkos said. "When you feel good with the puck, your legs are moving. You're willing to make some plays that when things aren't going well you may not try."
Stamkos' line with Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn, who also scored, continued to be a force. But as Ondrej Palat said, all four lines were rolling, him scoring his first goal since Feb. 5. The Lightning is getting healthy, too, with Nikita Kucherov returning after missing two games with a lower-body injury.
Defenseman Victor Hedman did leave the game midway through the third after getting hurt on a point shot, and he played just one shift the rest of the game. But coach Jon Cooper said he wasn't "overly concerned" about the undisclosed injury.
Goalie Ben Bishop remains the team MVP, racking up 21 saves for his third shutout of the season. His best stop might have been in the second period when, after getting tangled with center Valtteri Filppula, he got stuck on his side before making a double-pad-stack save on wing Tyler Kennedy.
"Sometimes you've got to (do) improv," Bishop said, smiling.
The Lightning has tightened up defensively, allowing two goals or fewer in each of its past four games. The only blemish Friday was the 0-for-6 power play, which Yzerman has said he hopes to address at the deadline.
"I like our team," Cooper said.
As he should.
First—1, TB, Killorn 11 (Stamkos, Callahan), 15:36. Penalties—Tootoo, NJ (cross-check), 6:07; Stamkos, TB (trip), 18:09; Moore, NJ (interference), 18:53.
Second—2, TB, Palat 7 (Johnson), 13:02. 3, TB, Stamkos 27 (Stralman, Callahan), 18:54. Penalties—Kennedy, NJ (hook), 2:58; Stempniak, NJ (high-stick), 18:58.
Third—4, TB, Carle 2 (Palat, Sustr), 11:12. Penalties—Farnham, NJ, misconduct, 3:25; Larsson, NJ (cross-check), 6:31; Larsson, NJ (high-stick), 12:39; Namestnikov, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:09; Gionta, NJ (roughing), 19:09. Shots on Goal—TB 13-18-5—36. NJ 10-6-5—21. PPs—TB 0 of 6; NJ 0 of 1. Goalies—TB, Bishop 25-17-3 (21 shots-21 saves). NJ, Schneider 26-21-6 (36-32).