For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the season truly began this past Saturday against the Boston Bruins. From that day on, the Lightning have had playoff mode activated and have shown the signs of the team we expect to see this time of year as playoffs approach.
Prior to last Saturday, the Lightning had lost four straight games in regulation and had struggled regularly over the last month. Many were hitting the panic button saying this team is tired and they are over the hill with a sweep against the Leafs coming shortly.
Now with six games to go, the Lightning seem to be rounding into form going into playoffs. The last three games have been very impressive, particularly on defense. Over the three games, the Lightning have allowed a total of three goals and just two at five-on-five.
Saturday saw the Lightning allow just two in Boston to the league leading Bruins. Despite losing the game, Tampa Bay’s compete level was the best it had been in weeks and the physical, playoff nature of their game pointed toward things heading in the right direction. They would follow that effort up with a 4-0 shutout win on the road in Carolina, perhaps their most complete performance of the season.
Thursday night’s win over Washington might have been the best indication of their game heading in the right direction. Washington came in on the second game of a back-to-back with travel. Lightning teams in playoff form would step on your throat and never let you back into a game. Tampa Bay did just that and won convincingly, 5-1.
One of the most promising signs from Thursday was depth showing up on the scoresheet. Pat Maroon scored twice along with a pair of assists from Anthony Cirelli. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare even pitched in with a primary assist for his second point in his last three games after coming in and out of the lineup.
With the team defense trending in the right direction and having some of the depth show up, there are plenty of reasons to be encouraged by where the Lightning’s game is at the moment. With two weeks to go, look for them to continue defending the way they have and see if they can get even more people on the scoresheet after the scoring became very top-heavy over the last month.