Lightning’s defense continues to improve

Coach Jon Cooper says the blue line will be crucial to a Stanley Cup bid
Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) says spirited, competitive practices create camaraderie on the team and lead to success on the ice. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) says spirited, competitive practices create camaraderie on the team and lead to success on the ice. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published February 13
Updated February 13

TAMPA – As the Lightning prepares to take on Dallas, it looks to continue its strong defensive play.

“That part of your game has to be clicking come springtime because you never know how many (goals) you’re going to get,” Cooper said. “There are going to be some nights you get zero, and there are going to be some nights you get one, and we haven’t been used to that too often, but it does happen, and you have to put yourself in a position to win those games when you’re only getting two.”

The Lightning entered Wednesday ranked fifth in the league in goals against, allowing an average 2.77 per game, and its penalty kill was tied for second with the Blue Jackets (84.2 percent).

Following Tuesday night’s 6-3 win over the Flames, Cooper was particularly impressed with the Lightning’s play “on the other side of the puck.” The effort included holding the Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau, one of the league’s leading scorers, to no shots on goal.

Cooper complimented the penalty kill, saying it has been outstanding throughout the year.

The Lightning’s defensive efforts are now especially crucial with the playoffs less than two months away.

“They put themselves in good positions to win games by playing D,” Cooper said.

We’re talking about practice

The Lightning typically runs competitive drills in practice, dividing the team into separate squads to spur excitement. As a consequence, the workouts seldom are dull. Wednesday, a particular three-on-three in tight quarters was filled with enthusiasm and cheers. When Ryan Callahan scored the winning goal for the squad wearing white jerseys, it set off a cheer more reminiscent of winning an actual game.

“We have fun with it,” Anthony Cirelli said. “Obviously, we’re all friends on the team, but we can kind of it give it to each other. It’s nice.

“I think we do a good job of being competitive in practice. Obviously, that goes into games. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to have fun with it as well.”

Black History Month marked

The Lightning hosts the NHL’s American Legacy Black Hockey History Tour truck at Amalie Arena on Saturday before the game against Montreal. The truck will be in the Green Lot, across from Thunder Alley, from 3-7 p.m.

The truck is visiting six U.S. cities. The stop in Tampa will be its fourth. In addition, the truck will visit the Jeff and Penny Vinik Family Park at Winston Park today and Pierce and Webb middle schools in Tampa on Friday as part of the Lightning’s “Guide The Thunder” mentoring program for middle-school students.

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