SAN JOSE, Calif - Coach Jon Cooper dubbed this three-game road trip through California the team’s the biggest test yet this season.
So far, so good.
The Sharks came in as one of the league’s hottest teams, and the Lightning whipped them, 5-1 in front of a stunned SAP Center. The five goals San Jose allowed nearly matched the combined total (six) during it’s four game winning streak. And they all came after the Sharks scored 25 seconds in.
"You look at the score now, I don’t know if we were thinking that after the first shift," coach Jon Cooper said. "I thought it said a little bit about our team the way they responded after that, because it always feels like when you come into this building and they jump on you, you try to weather the first five minutes. We really responded after that."
The Lightning’s top line continued to dazzle with nine combined points. Nikita Kucherov (15th goal) and Vladislav Namestnikov (sixth and seventh) both scored, and captain Steven Stamkos adding to his league-leading point total with three more assists. And Tampa Bay’s blueline continued its offensive resurgence, with Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin each scoring a goal. Dotchin’s became the third Lightning defenseman to tally his first NHL goal this season, joining Koekkoek and Mikhail Sergachev.
"I remember banging into the glass (for the celebration), but I don’t really remember much before that," Dotchin said. "Obviously it was exciting, something I’ve looked forward to for sure."
The fact the Lightning (12-2-2) entered first intermission tied gave it a boost. It had been too passive in the first period - pass-happy, more like it - but had a whole different feel in the second, which Stamkos dubbed their best period of the year.
"There was a lot said between the first and second," Cooper said. "As the game went on, in the second period, we were on top of them, we were skating, we weren’t giving them any space."
Namestnikov, who might be playing the best hockey of his career, notched his second goal in the third period, giving him seven on the season (he had 10 all of last year). The Lightning resumes its trip Thursday against the Kings at Staples Center.
"This is a big trip for us," Cooper said. "And it’s a huge step to get the two points (Wednesday). But we’ve got a couple heavy teams that we have to find a way to beat."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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