”I was looking for the police when we left the locker room because I thought we’d get arrested for stealing…We stole two points.”
Those were the words of Tampa Lightning head coach Jon Cooper following Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout win over the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Indeed he could now say that his team continued their life of crime by swiping another pair of points in Buffalo Tuesday evening via overtime against the Sabres by the same score. All in all, the Bolts absconded with 4 of a possible 6 points in their season-opening three game road trip.
Stolen or not, these are four big points for a team that was facing a trio of road games to begin their 2013-14 campaign away from home. And it was a caper that was made all the more difficult given the first two was against the teams that faced off against each other in last season’s Finals.
Things started off shaky enough, though. After dropping the opening night bout 3-1 in Beantown, The Lightning found themselves down 2-0 in the Windy City midway through the third period. Being down a pair to the champs in their barn is one thing, but they appeared to be in a much bigger hole they’d dug for themselves given the Bolts had only mustered 6 shots on goal the first 40 minutes of the game. This included laying a big fat goose egg in the SOG column on the scoreboard in the first period.
However, Marty St. Louis and Teddy Purcell found the twine 1:43 to propel the game to OT, then shootout. There Valtteri Filppula scored the only goal allowing Tampa Bay to skate away like a gang of purse-snatchers with the extra point in the standings, while leaving the Hawks with the loser point for their efforts.
Then the Bolts again found themselves in a hole on the road, this time down 2-1 in Buffalo late in the third when Purcell once again knotted the score. As was the case in Chi-town, it was of the power-play variety. Then Alex Killorn finished off the skewering of the Sabres just 1:50 into the final frame.
One of the reasons the Lightning were successful in their four-point getaway is the fact that they found a little juice in the power play. After failing on five man-advantage situations in Boston, they connected on their only one in Chicago and then once more on three chances in Buffalo. It’s not just converting the power play opportunities, it’s also the timing of them. Both game-tying tallies were while a man up.
Also, the offense seems to have gotten better as the week went on. After scoring once in the opener, and floundering for the first two and a half periods in Chicago, they have scored five times in the more than three and a half periods since. So it began to look more like the scoring machine its advertised to be. Likewise, the defense…while looking suspect at times…as held their own for the most part, keeping the team in the game until the attack could find its way.
Not to be overlooked is the contributions of Ben Bishop between the pipes. Tuesday night he denied 21 of 23 Sabres shots faced including all 16 of the even-handed shots. This came on the heels of Saturday night’s 37-save performance against the Blackhawks prior to the shootout. In total, that’s 58 saves on 62 shots during 126:35 playing time, which equates to a .935 SV% and 1.89 GAA.
Early on…sure. But that’s what was needed by the goalie to aid and abet his teammates in lifting those precious road points. And no, the heists were not things of beauty. However given how things went down last season, and what they faced with to start the season, no one in Lightning Town will be complain about these results. Dropping the puck on a new NHL campaign away from home and against the likes of the Bruins and Blackhawks, you’ll take the points in the standings any way you can get ‘em…By hook or by crook.