Things are looking up for the Tampa Bay Lightning

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With six wins in their last nine, the Tampa Bay Lightning are starting to resemble the team that nearly won the Stanley Cup last season.

A win tonight over the road-weary visitors from Vancouver and the Bolts (17-14-3) should go into the Christmas break feeling a lot better about themselves.

In fact, depending how the Senators do in Sunrise, Tampa Bay could even be back in a playoff spot.

“It’s a little too soon to say things have turned, but if I was going to pick a point in this season that our mindset is very much the mindset we had last season, it’s right now,” coach Jon Cooper told NHL.com. “And that’s with almost half our forward group being from the American Hockey League, from Syracuse.”

Indeed, the Lightning have a number of key forwards on injured reserve, including Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat, and Cedric Paquette.

That’s another thing to look forward to in the second half.

“We may have a rejuvenated group of guys come in like it’s the opening day of training camp,” said Cooper.

Paquette may actually be back tonight.

Of course, there’s still the Steven Stamkos situation hanging over everything. The captain says he wants to stay and win the Cup with the team that drafted him, but there remains considerable skepticism that the two sides can find common ground on a contract extension.

Stamkos is just trying to stay focused on hockey. He had two goals Sunday as the Bolts beat Ottawa to kick off a six-game home stand.

“We are looking at this six-game home stretch as an opportunity for our group to climb back in the playoff picture,” he told NHL.com. “We realize what these games mean at this time of year. Every point is important.”