Lightning prove they can skate with the best, show fight vs. Ducks

BY foxsports • February 9, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. -- Twenty-four hours after being bruised and battered in a rare display of weakness at home, the Tampa Bay Lightning turned a tussle against the West's best into a street fight.

For the Lightning, thumping the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Sunday at Amalie Arena was a display of resolve and redemption after seeing their 10-game home-winning streak halted on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Kings following a 4-2 loss that left their pride scarred.

For the Lightning, Sunday was about soothing recovery, about acing a gut check against a lethal foe.

A vulnerable Ben Bishop? Not this time.

A suspect defense? Not here.

A slow-starting offense?  Far from it.

"That's more along the lines of what we want to see," said Lightning center Brian Boyle, who had two goals. "It's big, especially on a back-to-back (stretch). It was a gutsy effort. ... It was a physical game, fast game early -- guys taking hits, giving hits. That's a really good team. Those games are really fun to play in."

They're also fun to play in when you dominate, and that's what the Lightning did in the first period. Tampa Bay raced to a 3-0 lead with goals from Boyle, center Valtteri Filppula and winger Nikita Kucherov. They outshot the Ducks 10-4. They orchestrated a dizzying attack on goaltender Frederik Andersen, who entered second in the NHL in wins with 29 and as a victor in 19 of his past 23 decisions.

What did the Lightning do? They dashed the Ducks' aura as the NHL's baddest bully -- Anaheim came in with a league-best 75 points -- and revealed a brand of fight more appropriate for an alley than the ice.

What did the Lightning do? They followed a stinker against Los Angeles with one of their most spirited efforts this season, just more proof of their bounce-back ability when asked to meet a stiff challenge.

"That's a big effort by the boys," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said afterward. "I don't know if 'proud' is a big-enough word. So everybody showed up. The one guy it started with is (Bishop). He doesn't make it to the second period (Saturday), and for him to come up as big as he did today for us, it says a lot about the kid."

Bishop earned Cooper's praise, especially early, which was a positive sign for the Lightning after the goaltender was pulled following his poor first period against the Kings. There were the 25 saves Sunday. There was Bishop rewarding his team's trust, after reserve goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy fared well in two appearances since being promoted from the American Hockey League's Syracuse Crunch on Feb. 1.

Put it all together, and the Lightning showcased the profile of a team that's supposed to thrive in the big, bad Western Conference, a team that's supposed to give Tampa Bay fits: Tough, fearless, physical.

The Lightning, ticked off after Saturday, fought fire with a flamethrower. They didn't mess around.

"Whenever you lose at home, it's not a good feeling," Bishop said Sunday. "The way we played in the first period (Saturday), nobody was happy. So we knew tonight was going to be hard, back-to-back. They were rested last night and the best team in the West. I thought the guys came out and played really well."

This development shouldn't surprise any longer. The Lightning improved to 15-6 following a loss and have outscored opponents 75-49 in the process.

The Ducks were supposed to represent the NHL's most-hardened road warriors -- they entered with a league-best six regulation road defeats -- and Tampa Bay treated them like a toothpick to be snapped in four pieces. And that was after Anaheim enjoyed a day off Saturday.

After Sunday, it's known the Lightning can skate with the best the NHL has to offer, even if that team resides in the Western Conference, considered superior by many. More will be learned when Tampa Bay goes on a five-game West Coast swing starting Sunday in San Jose.

Still, in dumping the Ducks, the Lightning showed that they can pivot from disappointment to domination in a hurry. In annihilating Anaheim, they showed the will necessary to remain in the conversation among the NHL's elite.

"Being down 3-0, it's not the way you want to get started," Filppula said of his team's start Saturday. "I felt like (Sunday), we did a better job defensively, and we were able to create some chances that way. And we were able to get a good lead."

A good lead led to "Goodnight" for the Ducks. A day after a large letdown, the Lightning produced a response of equal size.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.



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