What better way to end a NHL record-tying 12-game home stand than by beating the league’s hottest team? Well, that’s exactly what the Lightning accomplished when they beat the New Jersey Devils 2-1 on Friday night. Not only did they win — but they beat the Devils at their own game — they held New Jersey to only 20 shots on goal while showing they could win a tight checking game against a defensive-minded team.
Friday night’s win helped the Bolts finish their home stretch with a 7-3-2 record and a five-point lead in the Southeast Division. In the last two games though, they made a statement to the rest of the league that they can beat the best of teams when they’re at their best. Besides beating the Devils in a low scoring affair, they beat the (then) surging Phoenix Coyotes 8-3 to halt their 8-game winning streak. Anyone taking Tampa Bay lightly was forced to sit up and take notice.
The homestand was much more important to the Lightning and their chances than just a normal 12-game stretch. Ever since the schedule was released in July, the fans and organization alike knew this 12-game run of games at the St. Pete Times Forum was going to make-or-break the season. Before the season, the thought was – if they could thrive in February then they’d have a chance to make the playoffs; anything less than a strong record and they could kiss the playoffs goodbye. A 4-game winning streak to kickoff the homestand certainly got things off on the right foot.
But what fans didn’t expect was that the team would already be in a playoff spot. Instead of making up ground on the bubble teams fighting for the 8th spot in the standings, they were making up ground on the Southeast leading Washington Capitals. Then they were extending their lead on those same Capitals. That’s what happens when you have a bright, young, first-year coach and a bright, young, first-year GM.
Two trades, new uniforms, and a ticket-price freeze for next season. A lot has happened since the last time the Lightning played a game on the road. But the one thing that needed to happen was a strong stretch—and points in 9 out of 12 games classifies as a strong stretch. Sunday afternoon the Lightning will have to do something they haven’t done in almost a month — play a road game. They face the Rangers on Sunday, then they’ll get a chance to even up the season serious against the Devils on Wednesday. If they can play the way they did on Friday, it won’t really matter where the game is played.
As Vincent Lecavalier said after Friday’s game, “We have something special here.”
With the way they looked over the last two games, it’s hard to disagree.