The Tampa Bay Lightning have displayed impressive focus during a season-high five-game winning streak, though they’ll be challenged to avoid looking ahead.
With a showdown with the team they lost to in last season’s Stanley Cup looming, the Lightning continue their homestand against an Edmonton Oilers club that enters Tuesday night’s matchup with some momentum as well.
Tampa Bay (24-17-4) was outside of a playoff spot prior to its run, which began with a 3-2 comeback win at Edmonton on Jan. 8. It has since risen to third place in the Atlantic Division by finally combining timely scoring with a hot stretch from Ben Bishop.
"When you start stringing a few together, all of a sudden confidence starts going," coach Jon Cooper said following Sunday’s 3-1 win over slumping Florida. "You win a few in a row, you think you can win every single game. The more we’ve won, that’s what that feeling has been on the bench."
Bishop made 26 saves against the Panthers and has yielded three goals while winning three straight starts. He’s been supported by an offense that’s produced three or more in each of the last five.
Nikita Kucherov has at least one point in the last five and recorded two goals Sunday. Vladislav Namestnikov has eight points during that span and posted his first NHL hat trick in Thursday’s 5-4 overtime win over Pittsburgh, which opened a four-game homestand that ends with Thursday’s 2015 Stanley Cup Finals rematch with the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks.
Kucherov also scored the first of three third-period goals that erased a 2-0 deficit against the Oilers earlier this month. Victor Hedman added a goal and two assists while setting up Steven Stamkos’ game-winner with 4:09 remaining.
That loss started an 0-2-2 stretch for Edmonton (19-23-5), which has since rebounded with consecutive wins. The Oilers earned a point in a fourth straight game and halted a seven-game road skid with Monday’s 4-2 victory over Florida, in which Taylor Hall broke out of a slump with two goals and an assist.
"It’s a nice feeling,"?said Hall, who leads the Oilers with 18 goals but had just one over his previous 14 games. "It wasn’t an absolutely perfect night for our team or our line, but we managed to get some goals and get a lead early, which we hadn’t been doing lately."
The win did come with a cost, as center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins injured his hand blocking a shot in the second period and is facing a long-term absence according to coach Todd McClellan. The 2011 No. 1 overall pick’s 30 points are third-most on the Oilers.
It’s uncertain whether Cam Talbot will play as well after starting Monday. The surging goaltender, signed to a three-year extension on Sunday, made 31 saves against Florida and owns a 1.46 goals-against average over his past six starts.
Backup Anders Nilsson has been struggling, having lost four consecutive starts and recording a 4.44 GAA in his last five.
Talbot also has been a key part of a penalty kill that’s 13 of 13 over a three-game stretch and hasn’t allowed a power play goal in seven of eight.
Tampa Bay’s power play hasn’t been clicking in January, having gone 2 of 19 in seven games.
Edmonton, a league-worst 6-14-4 on the road, has lost three straight at Tampa Bay since a 3-2 win on Dec. 9, 2009.