The Lightning know themselves well. They know when they’re not playing their best, and they’re determined not to allow poor performances repeat themselves.
So when Steven Stamkos said he expected a better effort Saturday in San Jose, one night after an uninspired four-goal loss in Anaheim, the Lightning captain shrugged it off.
Tampa Bay’s 7-1 thrashing of San Jose at the SAP Center was no premonition. It was the expectation.
“I mean, I don’t even think it was really a prediction,” Stamkos said following a game where the Lightning scored four goals in the first 13 minutes and 14 skaters made their way on the scoresheet. “It was just I knew that was how we were going to respond. It wasn’t if.
“We knew we didn’t have the effort at the beginning of the Anaheim game, and we talked about it. ... To come out and have that effort, to have that jump at the beginning was impressive.”
Stamkos said after the 5-1 loss to the Ducks that the Lightning played a first period void of emotion, focus and structure. But everything that was missing in Anaheim was there to start Saturday’s game — and it occurred after a 2 a.m. arrival at the team hotel in San Jose.
“You can’t guarantee the result, but I knew the effort was going to be better,” coach Jon Cooper said. “And we did what we had to do. You’re proud of this team. Every game is not perfect. But to have what happened to us (Friday) — this is a sneaky top back-to-back — there was a renewed focus.”
In matching their season-high with seven goals, the Lightning were fast and fluid against the Sharks. They owned the ice from the beginning, were quick to the puck, resilient on the forecheck, dominant in offensive zone play and aggressive in creating offense. They moved the puck efficiently, with none of the sloppy passes that led to turnovers the previous night.
“It was our execution (Saturday), by far,” said Stamkos, who had a goal and an assist in the first period. “When we’re executing, it’s tough for the other team. We have so much skill and speed and transition and breaking out of our zone clean, and there just wasn’t those turnovers that cost us a little bit last game.”
A big part of playing winning hockey is not allowing bad losses to fester. That’s what the Lightning (28-10-5) have done this season, going 7-0-3 when coming off a regulation loss.
The Lightning return home Sunday having taken two of three on their California road trip and, overall, having won five of their past six and seven of nine. Their 61 points tie them with rival Florida atop the NHL standings.
Playing on consecutive days has been tricky for Tampa Bay. Friday’s loss was the team’s fourth in five games in the opener of back-to-back games, but the Lightning are 4-0-1 in the back end of games on consecutive days.
“I think we have such great leaders in the locker room that not a lot needs to be said,” forward Ross Colton said on whether much was said after the loss heading into the San Jose game. “I think we just all know that’s unacceptable, that can’t happen, that performance (Friday).
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“From the puck drop, we need to be ready to go, and that was kind of the attitude that we wanted to have (Saturday). We rolled four lines, everyone was ready to go and just playing the right way.”
Colton, who recorded his first career two-goal game, opened the scoring 3:17 into the first period. Colton was actually trying to feed Taylor Raddysh approaching the far post, but his pass hit off Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and went into the net. Colton added a power-play goal in the third, his fourth in the past four games.
Stamkos had a goal and an assist in the four-goal flurry, putting the Lightning up 2-0 at the 7:44 mark with a wrister from above the left dot.
Less than four minutes later, Stamkos took a puck into the offensive zone after a stretch pass from defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Stamkos led the rush in open ice, put the puck on net and Mathieu Joseph pushed in the rebound for a 3-0 lead with 8:56 left in the first.
The Sharks scored before the first intermission and pushed to open the second period, but Brayden Point’s goal 6:24 into the period increased the lead to 5-1, and the Lightning never looked back.
“We didn’t talk to the players at all until the pregame,” Cooper said. “That’s just a little bit of us knowing each other, from the coaching staff all the way down. We knew what had to be done (Saturday) and we addressed some things in the pregame, and that was the result.”
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