Despite being written off by nearly everyone prior to the 2013-2014 season beginning, the Tampa Bay Lightning got off to an incredibly strong start. One that had many stopping to take notice of that team nestled between the ocean and bay quietly showing why counting them out might not be such a good idea.
Then, as fate would have it, they got dealt a major blow when offensive superstar Steven Stamkos suffered a broken right tibia Nov. 11 in Boston. Expected to miss at least three months, with a return coming no sooner than February 2014, there’s no doubt this already young team faced a significant obstacle in their quest towards again becoming legitimate playoff contenders.
If that’s not difficult enough to handle, the Lightning lost more than just Stamkos this season. Tom Pyatt, Ryan Malone and Keith Aulie all either missed, or still are out, for long periods of time, while defenseman Victor Hedman, Sami Salo, Radko Gudas and now Eric Brewer haven’t been completely spared from the injury bug.
Yet, after enduring a horrendous West Coast road trip, the Lightning seem to be holding their own. Much of that’s due to the play of Ben Bishop and, though the record doesn’t reflect it, Anders Lindback in net. But let’s not discount the others. Offseason acquisition Valtteri Filppula, along with captain Martin St. Louis, keep coming through when needed most, evidenced in their recent point streaks.
More importantly, the entire team’s firing more shots on net. In fact, they netted a season-high 50 shots, two shy of the team record 52, during Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes. To be completely honest, had it not been for Justin Peters‘ outstanding performance, the Lightning might have blown out the Hurricanes by six or seven goals. Certainly a great sign heading into the season’s second half, one which should only see them get healthier.
A team nobody expected to contend, especially after losing their quick-strike weapon offensively, the Lightning are slowly but surely proving they’re dangerous enough to be taken seriously. Not only that, this team’s showing the world that Tampa Bay’s got enough organizational depth to overcome major adversity and legitimately contend for a playoff berth, both this year and in the future.