Injury to leading scorer has galvanised the team
Lightning defying their modest expectations
It appears out of place, like a smudge on fine crystal: the Tampa Bay Lightning high up in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Lightning ended with the second-fewest points in the East last year, and they have reached the post-season only once in the past six years.
Although they got off to a fast start, Tampa Bay were considered a young team looking to rebuild. When their biggest star, the high-scoring Steven Stamkos, suffered a broken leg on November 11, a slow descent out of contention appeared inevitable.
It was not. Near the season’s midpoint, the Lightning are holding strong, third in the conference behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.
Without Stamkos, the Lightning have won 11 games and lost six in 60 minutes, with a further four losses in overtime.
Kudos all around. Martin St Louis, the captain, has readjusted his game from setting up Stamkos to becoming their leading scorer.
“There are only a few special guys who can do something like that,” said Jon Cooper, the coach, who also deserves credit.
He has maximised the young roster. On the rookie scoring list, Tampa Bay are the only team with three players in the top 25. Then there is Ben Bishop. The six-foot goalie is allowing just 1.89 goals per game and turning away 93.5 per cent of shots. The American, 27, has put himself in Olympic team conversation.
Another couple of months like this and that “smudge” will blend right in.