TAMPA—Take your hand off the panic button. The Lightning is alright. In fact, the Lightning is more than alright, much more.
Sure, Tampa Bay lost two in a row last week. And yes, that was the end of a string in which Tampa Bay lost five of nine games with only 18 goals. Since then, though, the Lightning has won four in a row with a total of 22 goals. They zoomed from averaging two goals a game to averaging 5.5.
Tampa Bay added that fourth win on Thursday, with a 6-0 win over Dallas.
The Lightning hasn’t had a stretch like this since it started a 16-game point streak on Nov. 29. That skein started with four consecutive games of at least five goals.
How’d the team turn it around?
“We weren’t too worried,” Steven Stamkos said. “We have way too much talent to not score goals. You play the right way, get some chances early, and some on the power play (which has been going well lately). We capitalized on a team that came out a little flat.”
Stamkos also pointed to the spread across the scoresheet. Five players scored on Thursday – Stamkos scored first and last, the only player to do so twice. The power play was two-for-five on the night (both Stamkos goals). The penalty kill was perfect against two power plays.
The Lightning’s depth is back. Of Thursday’s six goals, half came from the Lightning’s leading scorers (two from Stamkos, one from Nikita Kucherov).
The top of the Lightning scoring list is the top of the league’s list. With a goal and three assists, Kucherov scored four points Thursday to reach 92 for the season. On Feb. 5, the first of the Lightning’s recent back-to-back losses, Kucherov rated a minus-four. As Stamkos said on Tuesday, as Kucherov goes, so goes the team.
“But this is how it goes for scorers,” coach Jon Cooper said. “You want consistency in your game. He’s been pretty darn consistent all year. There was this little stretch that he wasn’t scoring, but no one was scoring. But he’s a dynamic player and when he’s shooting the puck like he was tonight, and the goal he scored was effortless just on and off the stick. You just gotta keep throwing them out there and take advantage when he’s on a roll like that.”
In that sense, Kucherov is a microcosm of the team. Cooper went on to say he wasn’t worried about Kucherov after that minus-four game because he knows Kucherov and seen him grow. Everyone gets frustrated but they learn to brush it off. Again, that could be said about the team as a whole.
“We tell our guys, you have to turn the page in this league,” Cooper said. “Because the games come at you fast. You can’t hang onto things and he didn’t, and look what he’s at.”
The statement is similar to what Stamkos said about not being worried. But there’s no denying it’s easy to worry. Even when you know you’re a good team and can get through it, it’s only natural to wonder when and how.
That’s where the Lightning’s collective maturity comes into play. The team has three current or former captains in Stamkos, Ryan McDonagh and Ryan Callahan, plus a host of other leaders. The core of this group has been together. This isn’t the first rodeo.
“We wouldn’t have the record we have if that wasn’t the case,” Stamkos said. “We have a lot of confidence in ourselves in this room and we’re gearing up towards this last push of the season to the playoffs where we want to be playing our best hockey.”