Coming into Saturday night’s matchup with an extremely good St. Louis Blues team, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew there could be absolutely no letdown following Friday’s great bounce-back win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
A complete team effort, led by four current or future superstars, made sure that didn’t happen. The Lightning matched the Blues physically, and though they didn’t outshoot them, most shots were legit scoring opportunities. Obviously the guys still need to work on breaking their bad habit of passing instead of firing every puck toward the net, but there have been small signs of improvement.
Goaltending is looking much better than it has in previous years as well, thanks largely to 2013 trade deadline acquisition Ben Bishop. Starting his second game in 24 hours, the young man turned away 28 of 30 Blues shots. All this one night after stopping 31 by the Hurricanes to record his fourth career shutout. If that isn’t enough to declare him the Lightning’s no. 1 netminder (something most everyone’s aware of by now), I don’t know what is.
It doesn’t stop there though. Alex Killorn, moved up to the top line alongside two world class players in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis before Friday’s tilt with the Hurricanes, is currently performing at an extremely high level. His five points practically overnight are proof, as he’s leaped into the top three of Lightning scoring. Even though it’s a relatively small sample size, there’s many who think he makes that line better by relentlessly pressuring opponents into turnovers or crashing the net looking for any juicy rebounds.
On defense, the most noticeable impact has been coming from rookie Radko Gudas. Known for his hard-hitting body checks and tremendous puck-moving ability, he has five points and a plus-2 rating in 14 games played. He also leads the team with 55 penalty minutes, most of which came via a game misconduct (later rescinded by the league) issued during last Sunday’s game against the Florida Panthers.
Do the Lightning now have what it takes to be considered a legitimate contender in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference? While there’s plenty of hockey left, Tampa Bay’s opening more than a few eyes around the hockey world.