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Various Paths to Tampa Bay’s Early Success

It’s been said, time and again, that the truly great teams can beat their opponent on any given night with any particular style of play. While this year’s Tampa Bay Lightning shouldn’t be too quick to anoint themselves the NHL’s next great club - after nine games, that would just be silly - the results have been impressive to this point and wins are coming in a variety of ways.

Tonight’s triumph over visiting Pittsburgh was of the comeback sort, with the Lightning rebounding from a pair of first period shorthanded tallies by the Penguins, an early goaltending change with Dan Ellis replacing Mike Smith after three goals allowed on seven shots and a 3-1 deficit overall. While no team wants to get in the habit of having to battle back like that and, surely, it can drive a coach crazy, that the Lightning have already proven capable of doing so gives them immeasurable confidence and should pay dividends down the road.

“It’s about finding ways,” said Martin St. Louis, who scored a vintage St. Louis goal on a partial breakaway early in the third to give the Lightning a 4-3 lead and later added an empty-netter. “It’s not how you do it. It’s just finding ways and I think we do that,” he added.

I don’t want to see us having to come back from behind a lot but I want us to find ways to win.”

So far, so good and, with six wins in their first nine contests of the season, the Bolts find themselves atop the Eastern Conference standings alongside the Montreal Canadiens, who own an identical 6-2-1 record.

But what’s most promising for Tampa Bay is that apparent penchant for getting the job done however necessary. Consider:

-Against Atlanta, withstanding a late Thrashers rally to hang on for a 5-3 final in the season opener.

-Besting Montreal in their home opener in a back and forth, emotionally charged affair, with a late equalizer and an overtime winner.

-Finishing Philadelphia a night later, after a rather emotionless start from both sides.

-Rebounding from a 6-0 pasting at the hands of the Panthers in Sunrise with a 5-4 victory over Dallas, without the services of captain Vincent Lecavalier.

-Riding an early 3-0 lead in Atlanta to a 5-2 final on the strengths of a Steven Stamkos hat trick, four point performance.

-And, tonight, against Pittsburgh, battling back from a significant deficit and calming things, more importantly, after a wild beginning to the game.

Unlike last season, when the St. Louis-Stamkos-Steve Downie accounted for so much of the club’s offense, the Lightning are getting contributions from throughout the lineup. Case in point, Teddy Purcell’s tally late in the first period that changed the momentum of the game and pulled the Bolts to within a goal before the middle frame. And Dana Tyrell’s hard work goal - his first in the NHL - that opened the scoring just under three minutes in.

Regardless of who is contributing and despite the fact that mounting this sort of comeback isn’t exactly in the coach’s handbook for hockey success, Boucher sees this team as one that will always be battling back - a compliment that has not often been paid around here in recent years.

“I think in all the games, whether we were trailing by one or two,” Boucher explained, “Or sometimes three, I think we’re always coming back. That’s a trademark that we have - that we need to have - and I think that’s a tribute to the character of the players we have on this team.”

True, that this small sample is just that with a long road ahead and, yes, there are many improvements to be made but the multitude of paths to victory the Bolts have shown to this point gives them every reason to believe the stars may indeed be aligned for a tremendous amount of success this year.

Even Tampa Bay’s losses, save for the mess against the Panthers, have shown promise: A controversial overtime decision against the Islanders and last Sunday’s 4-3 decision versus Nashville - another comeback effort from the Bolts that fell just short.

The win over Pittsburgh may not have been as much of a statement as some might assert - again, we’re not yet half way to the ever-indicative quarter pole of the NHL season and Tampa Bay’s brass would be quick to remind that little, in the grand scheme of things has been accomplished just yet - but it does exhibit the all-important, early season belief held by all in the Lightning room that this team can more than hold its own with some of the league’s best.

“They’ve had their fair share of success,” said Ellis, “But we also believe in ourselves.”

“We want everyone to know in this league that we’re not going to quit.”

And that statement has indeed been made.

JJ

jj@kuklaskorner.com
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Filed in: NHL Teams, Atlanta Thrashers, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: dan+ellis, dana+tyrell, guy+boucher, martin+st.+louis, mike+smith, steven+stamkos, vincent+lecavalier

Comments

Primis's avatar

Not to rain on the parade, but the Bolts’ schedule plays a part in the early success.

MTL and NAS appear to be decent, if not good, teams.  The games against FLA, DAL, PHI, ATL, NYI… are all teams struggling right now.  And as for PIT… they just plain don’t look very good even though they’re atop their division with a paltry 5-4-1 record.

November will be tougher.  They start with a west coast swing (SJ, ANA, LA) and play teams like WAS (twice), BUF, BOS,  That’s when we’ll see if TB is actually for real or not.

Posted by Primis on 10/28/10 at 10:40 AM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

No doubt about it… This road trip that starts on Friday will be a very good indicator as to what we’re actually dealing with here.

Of course, I don’t really try to convince myself of good, bad or otherwise with teams until around the 20-game mark. That’s usually a pretty good, hard-line indicator as to how things will ultimately play out… And we aren’t even half-way there yet!

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 10/28/10 at 10:49 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

What concerns me more is that you could spin the “comeback kid” thing as a negative—if they continue to start behind the eight ball, they will eventually start losing in bunches instead of winning.

They definitely seem to have an attitude that you have to like. Stevie Y. and Guy Boucher (and arguably Vinnik) appear to have really turned the culture of the club around in a hurry. I would just caution getting too comfortable with the attitude of, “We can always fight back,” and start working to get out in front of games on a regular basis.

And I agree JJ, I like to look at the 20 and 40 game marks. Even after 20 games, I feel like you can really only say with some confidence if a team is in the top 20 or bottom 10. It’s tough to get more detail than that, because you know you’ll always have a Hurricanes-last-season type of deal where a team almost makes it back with a late charge.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 10/28/10 at 11:34 AM ET

Evilpens's avatar

No The Pens don’t look very good, But the !4 year old Drama Queen of a Goalie MAF is giving up 1 or 2 Bad Goals every start

Posted by Evilpens on 10/28/10 at 11:42 AM ET

SYF's avatar

What’s fun is watching St. Louis playing with a bit of an extra gear.  Man, that guy’s a lot of fun.

Also, +1 on what Nathan said above.  So far, so good.

Posted by SYF from Zata's Epic Viking Beard on 10/28/10 at 04:31 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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