Just before 2020 rang in, the Tampa Bay Lightning left Florida with a pedestrian three-game home winning streak, but they have returned to the Sunshine State as the hottest team in the NHL.
Make that the co-hottest team.
The Lightning look to push their seven-game winning streak to eight when they open a brief two-game homestand by hosting the equally red-hot Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
Like Tampa Bay, the Canucks are also riding a seven-game winning streak and will face a tough test in their only trip to downtown Tampa.
The Lightning went north for four games, starting the roadie with a rally from a three-goal deficit in Buffalo on New Year’s Eve. They used that 6-4 win over the Sabres as a springboard to claim victories in the next three contests.
In the four-game road sweep, which included wins in Montreal, Ottawa and Carolina, the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners outscored their competition 16-9 and seized control of third place in the Atlantic Division.
Now there are good times again in Tampa Bay after the club struggled to find its footing following a slow first month to the season.
Coach Jon Cooper liked the way his team closed the trip, keeping up with the Hurricanes and taking a two-goal lead after one period.
“A trademark of (Carolina) is they start out fast,” Cooper said following his team’s 3-1 win that moved it to 7-1-1 in the last nine road games. “The last time we played them they were up 3-0 before we knew what was happening. … You’ve got to weather that storm.
“For the shot-volume team that they are, we kind of kept them off the board a little bit. To get the goals early and make them have to play catch-up was a benefit for us.”
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy improved to 7-0-0 all-time against Carolina by stopping 28 of 29 shots and has won five straight starts.
The Canucks make the longest trek in the NHL — a 3,000-plus-miles journey from British Columbia to Tampa Bay– and will look to keep playing the strong hockey that also has them dreaming about the postseason.
They have averaged more than four goals a game during their winning streak, but the two high-scoring victories — 5-4 over Vegas and 7-5 against Chicago — have not been indicative of their play since Dec. 19. In the five other wins, the defense and goalies Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko have yielded just eight markers.
An unrestricted free agent after this season, Markstrom (15-11-3) recorded six of the seven victories during the streak. Demko (8-4-1) beat the Flames 5-2 in Calgary with a 23-save performance.
Tyler Myers scored the game-winning goal late on Saturday in a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers, and the Swedish backstop said he made a “desperation” save or two near the end.
Markstrom, who turns 30 on Jan. 31, earned his first All-Star selection last week when Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury declined to play for undisclosed reasons.
“It’s obviously a huge honor,” Markstrom said, “but it’s more reflecting our team and the way we play.”
He will join teammate Elias Pettersson in St. Louis, marking the first time Vancouver has had two representatives in the game since 2012 when Henrik and Daniel Sedin were chosen.
–Field Level Media