Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates their victory with center Valtteri Filppula (51) Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning Win Huge Game in Toronto, Reclaim Positioning in Atlantic

I can’t overstate how huge last night’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs was, because it was just THAT HUGE. The way the Tampa Bay Lightning has been playing over the last few weeks has been magnificent.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

To come back from a late January, early February flux in quality play; return from the Olympic break in the same funk, then to correctly redirect their passions (starting to think that Martin St. Louis trade was more and more necessary everyday) to the right areas and BOOM:  now the Bolts are winning games.

And even the games they didn’t win (the Boston Bruins on Mar. 8, the Phoenix Coyotes on Mar. 10) were still well-played efforts that they could have won, or maybe even should have won, against high-quality opponents.

Earning points in both of those shootout losses, and including the last four wins against Florida, New Jersey, Vancouver and Toronto, the Bolts have earned 10 points out of a possible 12 in the last six games.

This effort has single-handily gotten them out of a three-game pointless slump that threatened to derail this cherry of a season.  Now the Lightning is right back in the mix where they belong.  The two points earned last night put the Bolts back into second place in the Atlantic Division with 83 points.  Montreal also has 83 points, but due to having played one more game than the Lightning (which the Bolts are set to make up tonight when they play the Ottawa Senators in a back-to-back) sit in third place.  Toronto remains in fourth place with 80 points.

Only 13 games remain in the regular season, and eight of those are at home.

It appears that Steven Stamkos has properly zeroed in the sights on his stick since his comeback from injury after netting a natural hat trick last night (his second of the season and seventh all-time in the NHL).  Tyler Johnson is still cruising along and playing some of the best hockey I’ve seen of him this season so far with scoring his team-leading 22nd goal of the season (right when TB needed him to) and an assist (the only shocker is that with all of the Lightning’s goals last night:  Ondrej Palat had no points.  Strange).  Valtteri Filppula had two assists and some good looks on goal.  And Ryan Callahan did more of what Ryan Callahan does which is make the opposition look silly trying to keep the puck away from him.  I like him more and more each game.

And lets not forget the efforts of Ben Bishop. Bish stood up and helped secure last night’s win big time against all kinds of pressure by the Leafs to get the win late in the game. Making amazing save after amazing save at the wire when (and has been this way lately) the Bolts more often than not let a team catch up. Some of those saves towards the end just baffle my mind at how he managed to track the puck so well with all those Leafs in front of the net swatting away at it. Big Ben has been turning in some of his best goal-tending in a Vezina worthy season since the Coyotes game and he continues to be our most-valuable player out there.

I’m seeing some of the best hockey this team has produced all season over the last six games and that’s saying something because some of the best hockey the Bolts have played this year has been some REALLY good hockey.  They’re finding it again at precisely the right time.  I can’t overstate how excited this makes me, and how HUGE it is when you notice how close the Bolts are to the STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS again.

First time since the 2010-11 season where the Bolts lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 by a goal.

Oh, and a drunk Toronto fan ran out onto the ice last night.

HUGE!

LETS GO BOLTS!

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Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning.  This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.

This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.

That’s why I call it “off the dot”.  Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific.  While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational.  We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed.  The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion.  And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles, too.

These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.

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