TAMPA, FL. – During his postgame remarks Monday night, Lightning coach Jon Cooper noted his team has “a little bit of a gauntlet coming up this month.”
Cooper was referring to a stretch of games that, starting Thursday night in Toronto, includes a pair of games in Ontario against the Maple Leafs and Senators, visits from three teams (Hurricanes, Panthers, Islanders) the Lightning met last postseason and a game in Philly for the first time since January 2020.
Monday’s 3-2 win over the Capitals had the look and feel of the type of game the team needed to springboard into the aforementioned stretch.
“It is nice to get a couple wins in a row, especially at home,” said Brayden Point, who scored the game-winner in his team’s third straight win at Amalie Arena and third straight overall. “Home wins are important and it feels good to have a bit of a winning streak going.”
Not surprisingly, Andrei Vasilevskiy is a major reason for the recent string of success. There are few better examples of how a goalie can lift his team than his performance against Washington. With the Lightning trailing 1-0 and the Caps on the power play, the 27-year-old went right to left to make a sparkling glove save on Tom Wilson 15 seconds into the second period.
Three minutes later, Alex Killorn tied the game with the first of three straight Tampa Bay goals.
“You just don’t want to be in the position to chase games, and (Vasilevskiy) prevented us from doing that and then we ended up getting the lead,” said Cooper. “It’s (close to being) 2-0, and now it’s 1-1. It’s all because of the timeliness of that save. Who knows what happens after that, but those are game-changing types of saves.”
The same could be said of the effort that took place in front of Vasilevskiy. Erik Cernak sacrificed himself to block a couple of lasers off the stick of Alex Ovechkin while the Caps were on the man advantage and looking to take a 2-0 first-period lead. That type of play and character does not go unnoticed.
“That’s selling out to win games for your team,” said Anthony Cirelli, who had a three-point night, including a second-period power play goal that gave the Lightning the lead for good. “He does that all of the time. It energizes the bench to see a guy sell out like that and do all he can to win games.”
Winning games is something the Lightning (5-3-1) have been very good at in recent years. This season got off to a bit of a slow start with four losses in the first six games. That is not to say Tampa Bay was playing poorly. Rather, for the most part, they were coming up on the short end of what were mostly well-played games.
Cooper’s team is also continuing to adjust without the services of Nikita Kucherov (lower body), who will be out for roughly two more months. Kucherov is in a league of his own when it comes to his work with the man advantage. Filling the void is not easy, but there is plenty of talent to go around while the power play makes do without its maestro.
“I think we have done a good job of adjusting and getting pucks to the net and crashing the net,” said Cirelli of a power play that, at 16.7 percent, is 22nd in the league, but looking better of late. “It’s a work in progress.”
It may be a work in progress, but at least the wins and points are beginning to add up while that work in ongoing.
“I think we are building each and every game,” Cirelli added. “Obviously, I think we still have a lot of work to do. I think we are going in the right direction.”
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