TAMPA, FL. – It was a great time in Nashville for the Lightning, made better by the fact they picked up two points.
Last Saturday night’s outdoor game at Nissan Stadium featured everything a fan would want: hard-hitting, fights, and a close game that finished with the Bolts coming out on top, 3-2.
“It was everything we thought it was going to be and more,” Steven Stamkos told TNT after the game. “It was a long time coming for our organization to get this game and a long time coming for me to participate in this and I wanted to make it count.”
Stamkos sure did make it count. His third-period goal proved to be the difference and he assisted on the Lightning’s first two goals. The three-point night upped his season’s total to 59, tied for 10th in the NHL.
With the outdoor game and an awkward February behind the captain and his team, a month in which the team played six games due to the all-star break and what would have been a two-week hiatus had the NHL participated in the Olympics, but instead used that window to make up games that were postponed because of the virus, the Lightning enter the final two months of the season having to play 31 games in 60 days.
March opens with three home games in four days. Ottawa is at Amalie Arena on Tuesday night with Pittsburgh and Detroit coming to town Thursday and Friday, respectively.
The Lightning then play 10 of 11 games on the road, a stretch that has them playing in all four time zones. That potentially grueling part of the schedule is thanks in part to the SEC men’s basketball tournament coming to Amalie Arena on March 9-13.
If a team that is 7-1-1 in its last nine games and 11-2-1 in its last 14 continues to get the production it has from all four lines, then Jon Cooper’s Bolts will likely navigate this upcoming schedule demands with little concern.
What has helped the cause immensely has been the work of the fourth line featuring Corey Perry, Pat Maroon, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The 36-year-old Perry, who scored his 400th career goal last Thursday night against visiting Edmonton, had five points in a three-game stretch before being held off the score sheet against the Predators. He has 14 goals this season.
Alas, Perry’s value goes far beyond the pucks he puts in the net.
“I think everyone can see what he can still do on the ice, but it is what he brings in terms of character and leadership,” said Stamkos. “I think a lot of people forgot how good Corey Perry is. He has plenty in the tank and that (fourth) line has been really good for us this year.”
The Lightning’s depth in underscored by the fact that, through 51 games, they have seven players with at least 10 goals and three with nine, including Nikita Kucherov, who has played in only 16 games. Being backstopped by an all-world goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy has its benefits as well.
It has added up to a Lightning team that enters play Tuesday night against the Senators with 74 points and one point behind first-place Florida in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay has two games in hand.