Bolts’ improvement shows in latest victory

by Gary Shelton on February 9, 2020

in general

Cirelli's defensive play left team, fans buzzing./CHUCK MULLER

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Want a couple of clues as to just how much this Tampa Bay Lightning team has grown?

Start on Nov. 1, a lifetime ago. The Bolts were playing on the road against the New York Islanders. They lost 5-2, allowing the Isles to score three of the last four goals. The Lightning finished the night with six wins and five losses.

Then consider the Lightning at home on Dec. 9, also a while ago. The Bolts lost to the Islanders 5-1, giving up the final three goals of the game. They fell to 14-11 on the season, not much to brag about.

Now consider Saturday night, when the Lighting came back to beat New York 3-1 at Amalie Arena. It was the team's 18th win (along with two overtime losses) in its last 21 games. The Bolts are no 35-15-5 and show no signs of slowing down.

Content beyond this point is for members only.

Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the blog (it's at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!

Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on

Point scared his 20th goal of the season./CHUCK MULLER

Call it a hot streak, or call it growth, or call it defensivel improvement. Either way, the Lightning is on fire.

"There's probably a little bit of growth in our team," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "We played them earlier in the year and we gave up five both times. We were out-chanced and out-everythinged.  These last three games at home we’ve played three entirely different teams. You've got to play different ways to win. You’ve got to adapt. We played a simple game. We didn’t  turn the puck over, we didn’t give them much. The boys cared about getting two points even if it wasn’t going to be flashy."

It wasn't. It was only 1-0 in the third (a breakaway goal by Brayden Point, his 20th). But Carter Verhaeghe scored 6:25 into the third period. The Isles got one back when Derick Brassard scored on a power play, but Steven Stamkos scored an empty netter, his 26th goal of the season.

Stamkos has goals in four straight games and 29 points in his last 21 games.

One of the highlight plays of the night came when Anthony Cirelli caught Mathew Barzal from behind to take away a scoring opportunity.

"There's not much more you can say about Tony and his play," Cooper said. "His just never-give-up attitude. Barzal is a pretty quick little player. For (Cirelli) to be able to track him down from behind and be able to make that play without taking a penalty ... the guys on the bench really appreciated it, I'll tell you that."

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was solid again, running his record to 16-0-2 in his last 18 games. He stopped 17 of 18 shots.

Vasilevskiy now has 29 wins on the season, most in the NHL.

The Lightning now goes on the road. It plays at Columbus on Monday night and Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Monday's game starts at 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday's at 7 p.m.

Previous post:

Next post: