Tampa Bay Lightning Are In First Place…For Now

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Lightning are in first place in the Atlantic Division, but they won’t remain there without some consistency.

As this writer started drifting off to sleep after a hard fought win against Detroit, the familiar voices of the Tampa Bay Lightning broadcast team briefly discussed a technical hold on the Atlantic Division crown through the benefit of the win column. As it stands the Lightning hold a 42-26-5 record, good for an 89 point tie with our fellow statesmen, the Florida Panthers; who have a 40-24-9 record of their own.

When you fully digest the reality of how this division lead came to be, it sometimes feels like anything but reality. On March 5th, Alex Killorn made Tampa Bay Lightning history as he capped off a franchise-best nine-game winning streak with a sensational goal in overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes. It was an amazing coast-to-coast goal reminiscent of the old Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure that sent Amalie Arena into a roaring frenzy.

The roaring suddenly turned into screaming as the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to fall off the top of the mountain as fast as it got there. After the win, the Lightning went to Philadelphia a few nights later and played arguably their worst game of the season. They returned home the next night to lose in overtime to Boston.

So what? A two-game skid. Big deal it’s gonna happen right? The Flyers were back in town on March 11th and the Tampa Bay Lightning would have payback. Well… let’s just say the rematch at home against Philly went no better than the first contest. Ahead of the suddenly reeling Lightning was a four-game road trip.

The first game in Columbus saw Ondrej Palat and Steven Stamkos team up for two shorthanded goals in a game that saw Ben Bishop tie goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin for the franchise record in shutouts with 14. It was a sweet feeling that made things seem well for the moment. The next game was against Toronto. Easy win against one of the league’s worst teams right? Wrong… wrong!!

The listless Tampa Bay Lightning was beaten to every puck and the lone marker by Brian Boyle stood as the only Lightning highlight of the evening. Then it was off to the heart of Texas, where the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn awaited them. After surrendering not one, not two, but three leads in the contest, the Lightning left the lone star state with another loss after Dallas scored twice in the third period to cap off a 4-3 rally. The screaming was louder than ever now. Were the Tampa Bay Lightning going to stumble now of all times in the season? The answer would come over the next two contests.

The road trip concluded March 19th in Arizona. Ben Bishop made history as he claimed the Lightning franchise record (15) in shutouts for himself. The Lightning held on that night to defeat the Arizona Coyotes 2-0 and they salvaged a split in the road trip at 2-2. It was a marker that felt much worse than it was due to the Lightning’s prior performances. The question loomed of how the Lightning would start their last homestand of the season.

They quickly answered the call last night with a sensational win against Detroit, starting the game with a 3-0 lead. Forward Erik Condra scored twice, captain Steven Stamkos notched a goal and an assist of his own, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov even scored too. It was a complete performance; reminiscent of the February 28th road game in Boston.

As this writer went to bed last night the monsters of the last few weeks seemed to go to bed too. His hoarse voice got a rest as it was simply speechless. With a little help from the NHL over the last several games, the Lightning somehow had secured a tie for first place in the Atlantic with their second win in as many games.

Next: Bolts Charge Into First Place In Atlantic Division

Victory smelled like an octopus in Amalie Arena. Remember that smell Tampa Bay, because it’s first place for now but it won’t be for much longer without a successful conclusion to the 2015-2016 season.