Quick Strikes: Top Line Shines, Stamkos Heating Up & Team Continues Munching Points

Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning
Photo Credit: Steve Nesius/AP

Fresh off of three straight wins over top Eastern Conference contenders post Trade Deadline, the Tampa Bay Lightning headed out west to face the defending Stanley Cup champions before going to California. This road trip was expected to be challenging, as they were going coast to coast and crossing a few different time zones. On top of that, they finished the trip with a back-to-back, with the latter game featuring a lineup minus top goal scorer Brayden Point and top defenseman Victor Hedman. Given all of the challenges faced, it would be reasonable to assume this team would break even by earning four of a possible eight points prior to returning home. They surpassed all expectations though, collecting seven of a possible eight points on the West Coast.

Beginning against the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights in a building the Lightning hasn’t seen much success in was already going to be difficult, and it became more so after Jonathan Marchessault gave the home team an early lead. Thankfully, the top line of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and trade deadline acquisition Anthony Duclair came to play. Point had two goals, both coming in the final 20 minutes. Kucherov added four points on a goal and three assists, while Duclair added a goal of his own in a 5-3 win.

A couple of nights later, the Lightning were tied at one with the bottom-feeding San Jose Sharks after 40 minutes. If not for some big saves from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, they might have been down. Instead, they walked away with two points courtesy of their top line. Kucherov continued making his case for the Hart Trophy, given to the league’s most valuable player (MVP), by collecting another four points. Point reached 40 goals once again in his career, picking up three points, and Duclair notched a goal and an assist against his former team in a 4-1 victory.

Early in their next game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Lightning looked like they were sleepwalking. Then again, they had struggled in the opening frame during every game of this trip, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to those that follow this team closely. They fell behind by two goals early in the final period and found themselves staring at the possibility of having their five-game point streak end. Captain Steven Stamkos wasn’t about to let that happen, scoring two goals in the final five minutes to secure one point by forcing overtime. Unfortunately, the Kings prevailed early in the extra frame, but the point gained was a valuable one in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race.

The following night saw the Lightning face a former teammate in Alex Killorn and the Anaheim Ducks. Word came out prior to warmups that both Point and Hedman would be unavailable for this game, each day-to-day with a lower body injury. In what has become a theme on this road trip, the Bolts fell behind in the opening period. They battled back to take a slim lead after 40 minutes but couldn’t close the door in the third. That extended their point streak to seven games and set the stage for a second straight night of bonus hockey. This time, they found themselves on the right side of things, with Anthony Cirelli beating Ducks netminder Lukas Dostal as part of a 2-on-0 breakaway with Brandon Hagel.

Kucherov had a 13 game point streak end against the Ducks, but he’s been key to the Lightning’s seven game point streak that started on March 9. Against some top teams in the New York Rangers and Golden Knights, he notched a combined nine points. Throw in two more versus the Florida Panthers, and he had 11 points in three games against some of the league’s best teams. His linemate, Point, has been piling up the goals since the trade deadline as well, with at least one in five of six games. That includes a hat trick as part of a career-high six-point night against the Rangers, plus two each against Vegas and San Jose. Duclair, meanwhile, has at least one point in the seven games he’s played since joining the Lightning.

Stamkos saw an eight-game point streak end in Anaheim, but that wasn’t before he made an impact. That included a two-goal performance against both the Kings and Panthers, both of which led directly to big wins for a Lightning team that needs points in a crowded race for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots.

Can the Lightning keep finding ways to get points once they return home? They face three tough teams in the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and Detroit Red Wings. Two of the three are within striking distance of them for a playoff spot, so finding a way to get points is paramount to this team clinching a seventh consecutive postseason berth.

Lauren Burg

Lauren Burg is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer for “Inside the Rink.” A lifelong Tampa Bay Area resident, she graduated from the University of South Florida’s world-renowned journalism program in December 2009. While in college, she discovered hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning. She quickly became a passionate fan, attending many games over the years. She also experienced an All-Star game in 2018, numerous road games, and, most recently, the Bolts back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since graduating college, she’s been working hard to combine her two loves, writing and hockey, hoping to one day make that her full-time career. In her free time, she enjoys attending sporting events (both home & road when possible), taking photos, and traveling.

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