After enduring a horrible 2013 season, finishing 27th out of 30 NHL teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning wanted to make a statement early on this year. Mission partially accomplished, as they now have two wins, including Thursday night’s 6-5 overtime thriller, against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Steven Stamkos continued his dominance over the Hawks, with two goals and a pair of assists. Victor Hedman, meanwhile, bounced back from last Saturday’s horrific game against the Boston Bruins, in which he posted a nearly unthinkable minus-5 rating, by notching a goal and an assist to end up at plus-2.
Not that those two did it alone. Ben Bishop had numerous big saves and the defense, minus the huge gaffe from Radko Gudas and Matt Carle which basically gifted the Hawks one point, was relatively solid. Granted, when you have an offense capable of scoring multiple goals practically every night the other parts of the game don’t always have to be spectacular.
Whomever it is coming through, the Lightning have proven many times during the early part of this season that they can hang tough with some of the league’s best teams.
Take the Blackhawks for instance. A puck possession team if I’ve ever seen one, they outshot the Lightning by a wide margin, yet only scored five goals Thursday night. Go back to their first meeting Oct 5 in Chicago, and the Bolts looked dead to this world heading into the games final 10 minutes before tying things and winning in a shootout.
Ok, so the Hawks aren’t perfect. They’ve blown a few leads late and are struggling on the power play. Even so, that team’s still got the weapons to beat most everyone in the league, evidenced in their 6-1-3 record. Impressively, two of those overtime or shootout losses came against the Lightning, making them the only Eastern Conference team to collect all four points in two meetings with the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Have these two big wins automatically made the Lightning legitimate playoff contenders? While it’s still too early to make such a bold statement, you can bet these wins are sending a message to every other NHL team that Tampa Bay’s a team that should be taken seriously as this season progresses.