Don’t look now, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have arisen. The New York Rangers played Jared Leto to Tampa Bay’s Edward Norton in this 9-3 beating, but instead of destroying something beautiful, the Lightning may have created it instead.
For whatever reason, the Lightning just didn’t look the same early this season. The team wasn’t clicking, the big guns weren’t firing with the same volume and the goaltending has taken a big step back from its normal excellence (from both starter Andrei Vasilevskiy and new back-up Curtis McElhinney). Oh, and the Bolts went from a President’s Trophy 2018-19 season to not even being in a playoff position.
Now, Tampa Bay has won three in a row. Nikita Kucherov has six points during that streak and is once again a point-per-game player. Steven Stamkos has five points during that same run to make him a point-per-gamer. The same goes for defenseman Victor Hedman.
This win over the Rangers may turn out to be a crucial moment in what Tampa Bay hopes is a championship season. Heading into the 2019-20 campaign, there was no reason to doubt the Lightning as favorites for the Stanley Cup.
Sure, Tampa Bay flopped against upstart Columbus in the playoffs last spring, but that’s just further motivation to build off. The Bolts already claimed to have a chip on their collective shoulders from the previous post-season, when they led Washington 3-2 in a conference final series they ended up losing in seven games. So should we expect different from them this season?
If you’re a Bolts fan, perhaps this uncharacteristic slow start is a blessing in disguise: the team has already showed a range of emotions and we’re only one-quarter through the season. Sometimes getting mad is what a team needs and we saw Stamkos pop off in October about his team’s performance - perhaps we’re finally seeing the effects of that now.
I wonder if Tampa Bay’s sojourn to Sweden had anything to do with the slow start. It’s a big trip with lots of fanfare and maybe it was a distraction early on. Winning both games against the better-than-expected Buffalo Sabres in Stockholm may have released the pressure valve.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, their season has taken the opposite turn, though they had already lost three in a row before heading overseas. On Thursday night, it was the Rangers’ turn to touch the buzzsaw and if Tampa Bay wants to be that step-on-the-neck team that goes all the way this year, they’ll need to do the same every time they play an up-and-coming team: Sure, the Rangers have a ton of future potential, but they’re still realizing it. The Lightning are the powerhouse that should be chugging along on all cylinders and teaching others just how far they have to go to be on the same level.
Adversity? We love it in the hockey world. Tampa Bay may have experienced it earlier than expected this season, but it was important not to play all 82 games in a comfortable position. The Lightning need to keep rolling - not only to grab a playoff position, but also to establish themselves as the juggernaut we thought they would be.
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