What a difference a week makes. With March winding down, the Tampa Bay Lightning had slipped out of first place in the Southeastern Division, lost 10 of 12, and the beaten-and-battered Bolts seemed destined for a short first round postseason exit. Turn the page to April and hope springs eternal, as the team has gotten healthy and flipped a switch winning five straight games and propelling themselves back into contention for a top-four seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tampa Bay's newfound grit and determination continued Sunday, as Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier's first period power-play goal would be all the scoring the Lightning would need as backup goaltender Mike Smith was sensational, leading the Bolts to a 2-0 win over defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks Sunday night at the United Center in Chicago.
Lecavalier scored just eight seconds into a powerplay at 7:56 in the first period, tipping a Martin St. Louis shot from in front of the net past Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. St. Louis' assist gave him 94 points on the year, matching his 2003-04 Hart Trophy-winning season output. Nate Thompson would add an empty-net goal for the Bolts with 22 seconds remaining in the game.
But it was goaltender Mike Smith who stole the show, as he stood on his head all night keeping the Lightning's one-goal lead intact long enough to earn his second victory in his last two outings and prolong the Lightning's momentum building winning streak. Smith finished the game with 31 saves as Chicago dramatically out-shot the Lighting 31-14.
The win pushed the Lightning's point total to 99, just one point behind the fourth-place Pittsburgh Penguins and a chance at home ice for the opening round. The Bolts have also battled back to within striking distance of the Southeast Division, where the Washington Capitals now only hold a four-point lead at 103 points. Also in reach is the top seed in the Eastern Conference, where the Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers are tied for the top spot at 103 points with three games left apiece.
Up next for Tampa Bay is a trip to New York to take on the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.