Lightning seek to extend Atlantic streak vs. Canadiens
After heading into the holiday break with an impressive 6-1 victory over the Florida Panthers, their in-state rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning will try to extend a nine-game winning streak against Atlantic Division opponents when they host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
It’s the second of a six-game stretch against Atlantic foes for Tampa Bay that also includes a Jan. 2 contest in Montreal. The Lightning, who ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy last season with 128 points, began Friday’s action in sixth place in the Atlantic Division with 40 points but are just four points behind the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs.
“(There are) a lot of good things going on in our game and [Monday night] we were rewarded for it,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper told the Tampa Tribune after the victory over the Panthers that snapped a two-game losing streak. “We have to start getting points and this was a great first step.”
Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh added, “It’s not going to be easy, and we have to continue to get better and more consistent, but we’ve proven to ourselves enough times in the first half of the season, so to speak, what we’re capable of and what’s expected of us.”
Fortunately for Tampa Bay, there is only a four-point difference between second and sixth place in the tightly bunched Atlantic with the division-leading Boston Bruins holding a nine-point edge over Toronto.
The Lightning went into the break on a positive note with the win over Florida, jumping out to a 3-0 first period lead and increasing the margin to 5-1 after two periods. Tampa Bay, which had gone 0-for-7 on the power play in a 3-1 loss at Washington two days earlier, scored on three consecutive power plays against the Panthers, the third time this season the team has scored three power-play goals in a game.
Brayden Point led the way with four points (goal, three assists), and defenseman Victor Hedman added two goals and an assist. Point deflected an Erik Cernak shot just 41 seconds into the game for his team-leading 14th goal to get Tampa Bay rolling.
“You get that goal on that first shift, it really gets you fired up and everybody going on the bench,” McDonagh said.
Montreal, which is 10-5-3 on the road this season and two points ahead of the Lightning in third place in the Atlantic, claimed six of eight points on its four-game road trip through western Canada before the break that finished with a 6-2 victory at the Winnipeg Jets on Monday. Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault each scored two goals, and Carey Price finished with 27 saves in the win.
“It’s really nice to head into the break with a win,” Tatar said. “It’s huge. That gives you a lot of confidence and a lot of smiles. We finished the road trip well and we’re really happy about it.”
Right wing Brendan Gallagher added, “It’s kind of nice to go into (the break) feeling good about ourselves. I’ve had the opposite where you lose a few games and it kind of eats at you. You’re able to enjoy Christmas a little more this way. Then when we come back, another three very, very critical games.”
The Canadiens play at Florida on Sunday in the second game of a back-to-back, then finish the trip at the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
–Field Level Media