Lightning head coach Guy Boucher warned of competency at the very start of the Bolts NHL record tying 12 game home stand. He warned that being able to sleep in your bed every night for over a month is not always a good thing when you are a professional hockey player in the NHL.
Boucher’s concerns became a reality recently when the Lightning began to become complacent in their play, losing some games they probably should have won. They lost two the Flyers and Red wings last week and you could tell the team was beginning to feel like a top-level second tier team. Boucher needed to change that mind set.
The Bolts were 4-1-0 with a plus 10 in goal differential during the first five games of the home stand. That all changed over the last five as Tampa went 1-2-2 with a minus-6 in goal differential.
Boucher’s fix was not more morning skates and practice sessions but some rest and relaxation over their extended lay-off. Following their overtime to loss to in their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers on Saturday, Boucher gathered his troops and left town.
Boucher and General Manager took the team to Naples Florida for some fun, sun, golf and a bonding team dinner. The two-day excursion could not have come at a better time in this, the dog days of the season. The team did have one practice on the way home in Estero Florida, home of their ECHL affiiate the Florida Everblades. The practice was short and only to prepare for their showdown with the hottest team in the NHL, the Phoenix Coyotes.
Phoenix, winners of eight straight games did not stand a chance against a well-rested and ready Lightning team. Boucher’s trip worked and worked to the tune of an eight-goal outbreak against a team that was only giving up 1.62 goals per game over their eight game winning streak.
The Coyotes had not lost since Feb-2 and had only surrendered more than three goals in a game once since then.
The Lightning on the other hand, has been struggling offensively. Their power play had gone from an 87.5 success rate in the first five games of the home stand to a paltry 12 percent in the last five. Defensively they had gone from allowing just 1.2 goals per to a whopping 4.4 per game over that same stretch.
In a show of appreciation for what the organization did for the players, the Bolts came out and took a 2-0 lead before three minutes had gone by in the first period. They led 5-0 after one period and 7-1 after two. They were relentless in their attack as they peppered Coyotes goalie Jason Labarbera with 31 shots in the first two periods.
It did not hurt that the Coyotes played an overtime game the evening before in Philadelphia, and LaBarbera, who as backup to Ilya Bryzgalov, had played eight minutes in Phoenix’s past 19 games.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan said, “”For us to come out and hang (Jason LaBarbera) out to dry like we did, it was unfortunate and disappointing. I think that’s what caused so much emotion from our guys. ‘Barbs’ is a such a team guy and we wish for a lot better than that for him.”
The Lightning eight goal output was their highest since scoring eight in a victory over the Flyers in November.
Thirteen different Bolts recorded a point in the victory, led by team captain Vincent Lecavalier who recorded the third five-point game of his career, with a goal and four assists Lecalalier’s five point game was topped only by Teddy Purcell, who recorded his first career hat trick with goals number 13, 14 and 15 on the season.
Besides Lacavalier and Purcell, the Bolts Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos had multiple point games. St. Louis had two goals and an assist while Stamkos scored his league leading 41st and added an assist.
Adam Hall also chipped in a goal for the Lightning. The Bolts struggling power play found some energy against the Coyotes, converting three of four chances with the extra man.
“You could see it, our guys just had no gas in the tank,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “That’s one of those games where you just get rid of it, burn the tape, and move on.”
The feeling was just the opposite in the Lightning locker room. When asked about the last time he could remember scoring three goals in any hockey game, Teddy Purcell responded, “That was pretty cool,” that was my first hat trick since street hockey when I was 10 or 12 years old probably. To get a hat trick and then two points, that’s a pretty special night.”
Bolts coach Guy Boucher was proud of the way his team responded but he certainly did not expect eight goals. “You never expect 8-3,” Boucher said. “If you expect that, you’re never going to get it. Expectations have to be that it’s going to be a tight game.”
“For us, we haven’t gotten the results the last three games,” said Martin St. Louis, who notched his 750th career point. “I don’t care if we think we played good, we still deserved better. At this time of the year, it’s all about results, so I’m glad we went after the result and got what we wanted.”
Other Tampa Bay Lightning News:
The Tampa Bay Lightning put goaltender Mike Smith on re-entry waivers. Smith is 1-4-0 with a 1.83 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage since he was sent to AHL Norfolk. We will know at noon Friday whether he clears. If he is claimed, the claiming team will be responsible for half of what’s left of his $2.4 million salary for this season. The move was done after the Bolts made yet another deal before the Monday trade deadline.
On Thursday, The Tampa Bay Lightning traded backup goaltender Dan Ellis to the Anaheim Ducks for backup goalie Curtis McElhinney. Ellis, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent has another year left on a two-year, $3 million contract. McElhinney, 27, is making $570,000 this season and is potentially an unrestricted free agent, so he not only is a lot cheaper than Ellis, he gives the team a bit more payroll flexibility.
McElhinney is 6-9-1 this season with two shutouts, a 3.43 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. Ellis was 13-7-6 with two shutouts, a 2.93 goals-against average and .889 save percentage so far this season.
Ellis had this comment about his time with the Lightning organization, “I love Tampa, and I wish I could have stayed there,” Ellis said. “I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the organization or the way anything was handled. I think this is just part of the business side of the sport. The team has acquired some players recently and has some big financial obligations moving forward with contracts and a number of other players.”
The lightning will now prepare to host the next hottest team in the NHL, the resurging New Jersey Devils on Friday night. The Devils are 9-0-1in their last ten games and are scratching and clawing their way into the playoff race.
The Friday night contest will end the record tying 12-game home stand as the Bolts hit the road for the first time since January-21. They will travel to play the New York Rangers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.