TAMPA — It was not an easy test.
The Lighting had three playoff-caliber teams come into Amalie Arena this week as they tried to finish their schedule on a roll before heading into the All-Star break.
The Lightning had to rally to defeat the Wild, they had to fight to beat the NHL-leading Bruins and on Saturday night, they relied on their depth of scoring to pull out a 5-2 win over the Kings.
“It was three tough teams to play in this league; big, strong, fast, playoff teams, and our guys handled it well,” coach Jon Cooper said. “The one thing that was a little bit of a worry (about Saturday’s game) was after a big win against the Bruins (on Thursday) and then heading into the break (today) … how were (the guys) going to handle the game and were we going to look past it.
“They didn’t,” Cooper said of his players. “They got the points we needed and that makes, especially for the staff, for a better break.”
The Lightning earned that rest.
They head into the break having set a franchise record of 12 straight home wins, the second-best such record in the league this season. Tampa Bay improved to 32-15-1 (65 points) on the season and pulled within three points of the second-place Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins lead with 81 points.
Brayden Point scored his sixth game-opening goal of the season at 14:58. One minute and 19 seconds later, an emotional Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who revealed that his mother had passed away just a few days ago, gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead.
Corey Perry, the right wing on Bellemare’s fourth line, ripped in a rebound at 15:57. Nikita Kucherov, who stole the puck from the Kings defensemen behind the net and set up Point, extended his home points streak to 15 games, dating back to Nov. 25.
Ross Colton scored his 10th goal of the season, chasing down the rebound of a Nick Perbix shot and flipping it up past goaltender Jonathan Quick at 15:20 in the second period. It was Perbix’s third assist of the game, the rookie defenseman’s first three-point game in the NHL.
Victor Hedman scored his second goal in as many games with 3:57 to play.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan’s shot on goal dribbled through Andrei Vasilevskiy’s pads for Los Angeles’ goal in the first period. Lightning defenseman Ian Cole tried to bat down a Phillip Danault pass, but the puck ended up sneaking past Vasilevskiy with 1:52 to play in the second period.
Vasilevskiy made 26 saves. He also anchored the penalty kill that gave the Kings a six-on-four advantage after Hedman was called for roughing at 17:30 in the third.
After a disappointing end to their five-game road trip that preceded this homestand, the Lightning came into this week determined to control the puck better, focus on their defense and try to get the top-liners some scoring help.
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Through this three-game homestand, they relied on depth, consistency, and limiting their turnovers, which had given their opponents too many opportunities in the past.
“It was nice at the front end of that road trip getting those wins, but we had to kind of look in the mirror after the Edmonton and Calgary games — that was not our brand of hockey and they made us pay,” Colton said. “So coming home from that, I think we kind of watched a lot of film and just noticed that it was kind of us shooting ourselves in the foot almost; turning the puck over, fueling their rush and their offense.
“So, these last three games, I thought we limited that and, if we’re playing good team defense, we’re obviously going to get scoring from the top lines, and it’s nice when (the other lines) can chip in. But it kind of starts from the back end.”
What Colton saw Saturday was a big improvement from the young team that Cooper was coaching a few months ago.
“If you were to judge where we are in standings, we’d say it’s a heck of a job these guys have done, especially when you started the season 1-3,” Cooper said. “There’s been a lot of growth with our team. We’re a much better team today than we were on day one. We’ve started to find some consistency in our game. And that’s what you want as you’re trying to make a push for the playoffs.
“But we put ourselves in a spot we want to be in. We’ve just got to keep moving forward and like I said, we’re a much better team now than we were a few months ago.”
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