Lightning Storm into All-Star Break - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Lightning Storm into All-Star Break

Lightning Storm into All-Star Break

As the NHL enters its All-Star Break, the Tampa Bay Lightning are firing on all cylinders, winning eight of their last 10 and 12 straight on home ice, a new franchise record. The list of teams that have had a first half as impressive as the Bolts this season is short.

At the very tiptop of that list: the top seed, Boston Bruins. Entering last Thursday night’s matchup with the Bolts at Amalie Arena, the Bruins had only lost five of their first 47 games and twice beaten the Bolts in their first two meetings of the season back in November. Boston is playing at a historic clip, on pace to beat the record for wins in a season co-owned by whom other than the 2019 Tampa Bay squad that won 62 games (the Detroit Red Wings also won 62 games in the 1995-96 season).

Tampa Bay Acing Tough Test

All that considered, the Bolts’ 3-2 win over the big bad Bruins at home was a perhaps their most complete effort of the season.

The Lightning started the night with a first period power play goal from Brandon Hagel. Brayden Point scored early in the third period off a Steven Stamkos face-off win and Viktor Hedman gave the Bolts the final lead of the game netting a third goal with 6:31 remaining. Nikita Kucherov continued his point streak, assisting on all three Lightning goals. The Bolts won the face-off battle while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 36 of 38 shots.

“This whole week is a big test for us,” said head coach Jon Cooper after the win over Boston. “These are all playoff-caliber teams, they’re big, they’re heavy, skilled. So yeah it’s a test and so far we’re doing pretty darn well on the test.”

After the loss, Bruins coach Jim Montgomery called it a “playoff type game,” and he was right.

The heated win over Boston followed by a win over another playoff hopeful LA Kings team to send the Bolts into the break with a jolt of momentum. Thanks to well-balanced line play, staunch defending, and terrific goaltending, the Lightning are primed for another deep playoff run, with their eyes on a fourth straight visit to the Stanley Cup Finals.

“It hasn’t been a fire drill or anything like that, we’ve played some sound structured hockey, said Cooper. “We’re getting contributions from all four lines all 60 [minutes], goalie’s playing well. That’s what happens and we’re getting rewarded for it.”

Mid-Season Marks

At the mid-point of the season, the Lightning rank among the top five in the league in goals scored (fifth), assists (fifth), points (fourth), shooting percentage (fourth), and sit second behind only the Edmonton Oilers in power play efficiency.

Perhaps the only area of worry for Tampa Bay lies in the strength of the Eastern Conference. Newcomers to the contender scene like the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils only further congest an already loaded East. A younger, faster Colorado Avalanche team exposed the Lightning in last season’s Stanley Cup Finals, potentially a precursor for what challenges await them in April.

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The Long Road Ahead

Cooper and his staff maintained a dynasty mentality in the offseason. The Bolts inked foundational pieces like center Anthony Cirelli and defensemen Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev to long contract extensions, fortifying the pillars of the franchise long enough for future Hall-of-Famers Stamkos, Kucherov and Vasilevskiy to play out their prime years for a contender.

With no glaring weaknesses as the trade deadline approaches, could the Bolts make a move similar to last year’s acquisition of Nick Paul from the Ottawa Senators? Paul has been fantastic from the very jump in Tampa and became and integral part of the team’s postseason run in 2022.

Should they decide not to make a splash before the deadline, the Bolts are built to win now. All of the elements needed to hoist Lord Stanley are accounted for. The Lightning possess one of the best all-around rosters and coaching staffs in the NHL. They also have the most championship pedigree with four trips to the Eastern Conference Finals in five years and two Cups to show for it.

With All-Star Weekend approaching, the Bolts have eight days off to rest up and prepare for the road ahead.

By Jordan Ogren.

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