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Time for everyone to appreciate the Lightning’s special season?

Maybe it's time we all put the Tampa Bay Lightning's record-setting season in the proper perspective.
The organist works the crowd during the first period of Saturdays (3/17/18) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins at Amalie Arena in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times
The organist works the crowd during the first period of Saturdays (3/17/18) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins at Amalie Arena in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Mar. 24, 2018|Updated Mar. 24, 2018

TAMPA — No Lightning team has won more games in the regular season than this season's with 51 heading into Saturday night's game against the Devils.

Tampa Bay is two points shy of tying the franchise season record (108). It has scored more goals than any Lightning team, and that's saying something given the franchise's previous firepower (Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards).

This is a first-place team on a 12-2-1 stretch entering Saturday. Yet, there's a feeling of concern. Captain Steven Stamkos said the other day there has been "negativity" around the team, internally and externally.

The standards for the Lightning are understandably high. But you have to wonder if this special season is getting taken for granted.

The Lightning was out of the playoffs last season.

"You come out of nowhere and (make the playoffs), everyone is like, 'Wow, look what those guys have done,' " coach Jon Cooper said. "When you're expected to do it, oftentimes you don't get the credit. It's more of a, 'You should  have done it.' It says something about this group that, put in that situation, they were able to accomplish it. I'm so proud of them."

There are issues the Lightning has to work through if it wants to go on a deep playoff run:

–Its penalty kill has been brutal, 27th in the league at 75.9 percent entering Saturday after allowing three power-play goals in Thursday's 7-6 win against the Islanders.

–Its defensive-zone coverage and awareness have been lax, with the Lightning outshot in 22 of its past 34 games. That has worn on No. 1 goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had allowed three or more goals in 18 of his past 26 starts entering Saturday after doing that just 11 times in his first 33 starts.

After the win over the Islanders, Stamkos looked exasperated. He has talked about needing to bring back "positive emotion" in the locker room and having fun again.

Stamkos said the group has to remember how good it is and play with that confidence. The Lightning has the league's leading scorer entering Saturday, Nikita Kucherov, and the goalie who leads the league in wins, Vasilevskiy. It has an NHL-most five All-Stars, including budding stars Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde. Amalie Arena is sold out and rocking for every game.

But it's almost like the weight of expectations has taken the fun from everyone. From the fans. From the players.

"This is a good hockey team," Stamkos said. "We've found a way to break a franchise record. That's pretty cool in itself. But I've been saying this for a while – it's a different feel this year. It's a feeling where we are a team that can do some damage in the playoffs. If the records are there, it's icing on the cake. But you want to get in the playoffs and play a lot better than we have lately."

But it's about time this team — this area — enjoy the ride. Before it's too late.

Contact Joe Smith at jsmith@tampbay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Steven Stamkos gets set for a faceoff during Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Amalie Arena. [Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images]
Steven Stamkos gets set for a faceoff during Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Amalie Arena. [Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images]

Lightning team records set this season

*Most wins (51)

*Most goals (265)

*Goalie wins (Andrei Vasilevskiy, 42)

Team records within reach

*Most points (108, 2014-15)

*Most points by a rookie (Yanni Gourde, 58 entering Saturday; Brad Richards had 62 in 2000-01)

*Coach career wins (Jon Cooper is tied with John Tortorella at 239)

*Andrei Vasilevskiy could become third goalie in past 30 years to lead NHL in wins before his 24th birthday, joining Chris Osgood (1995-96) and Carey Price (2010-11).

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