by Ben Jansen
The Tampa Bay Lightning are setting records and finishing out their season strong. The team is led by two All Star Game participants; defenseman Victor Hedman and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning have won five of six games after the break, including a streak of five in a row. Thanks to this recent burst, Tampa Bay has 73 points this season, making them within five points of the Boston Bruins who lead the Atlantic Division, and eight points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs to secure 3rd place in the division.
After a three week stretch of being away, the Lightning returned home to Amalie Arena on Tuesday and Thursday, Feb. 4 and 6. It was a long wait, but the fans welcomed the team back with two sellout crowds of 19,000. In return the fans were rewarded by both games being 4-2 victories over teams in playoff position. Nikita Kucherov tallied four points in the two wins against the Las Vegas Golden Knights and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The game against the Penguins was historic for two key Lightning players. For the reigning league MVP Nikita Kucherov, it marked his 500th career game. “I work hard and I’m happy where I’m at,” Kucherov told reporters before the game. “I’m no different than any other guy.” In his 500th game, he scored an empty net goal for his 525th career point, which is already fourth all time for the Lightning, at only 26 years old.
On the other side of things, Andrei Vasilevskiy used the game to tie the franchise record for a goalie point streak. With the victory, Vasilevskiy tied the franchise record with his 16th point, a stretch dating back to Dec. 17. He holds a 14-0-2 record in that time. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner turned away 29 Pittsburgh shots in the win. “When he plays like that, he gives us a chance to win every night,” forward Steven Stamkos said about Vasilevskiy.
However “The Big Cat” cares more about the team’s current point total than a record. “The record, that’s good, but a better place in the standings, even better,’’ said Vasilevskiy.
However the game was not all bright spots for the Lightning, as the team’s second defenseman Ryan McDonagh left the game with an apparent leg injury. On Saturday, Feb. 8 the official Lightning twitter account stated that head coach Jon Cooper announced McDonagh will miss “a couple weeks, but nothing season ending.”
With only 28 games and less than two months remaining in the regular season the Lightning find themselves on a five game win streak, which is tied for the longest active win streak in the NHL. However, the team they are tied with for that lead currently sits five points above them in their division, and for home ice throughout the Eastern Conference Finals.
There are multiple home games remaining with tickets as low as $25 as the Lightning make their playoff push. While they have not been as dominant as past seasons, the Lightning are still the betting favorite to win the Eastern Conference, and downtown Tampa will be buzzing as they make a run at the Stanley Cup.
Ben Jansen can be reached at email@example.com