It was a classic Steven Stamkos goal.
In the waning seconds of regulation on Tuesday night, with the Panthers holding onto a one-goal lead against the Lighting, the 26-year-old superstar forward cycled down to the goal line on the left side, camping out before one-timing a pass from Victor Hedman that beat James Reimer with five seconds remaining in regulation. It was an off-angle shot put in just the right spot, with too much snap for Reimer to glove. It was an only-Stamkos-can-do-that type of score.
The Lightning went on to win the game, 4-3, in a shootout against its cross-state rivals. It was huge two points Tampa nearly got none of. With the two teams battling each other in the Atlantic Division race (two Florida teams duking it out for supremacy in the East, who’da thunk it?), points are at a premium.
Games like Tuesday are the ones Stanley Cup champions are made of. Getting breaks when they can in the game, having big players come up huge at key times, and most of all – getting the result.
The Lightning got all of that on Tuesday night, as they improved to 3-0 on the young season. Tampa Bay will put its unblemished record to the test on Thursday when the Colorado Avalanche comes to town. After its attempt to accrue eight points through its first four games (the other was in the Stanley Cup season of 2003-04), the Bolts will embark on a six-game road trip.
2- Washington: Braden Holtby and Philipp Grabauer have combined for a .957 save percentage and 0.98 GAA through three games.
3- Pittsburgh: Marc-Andre Fleury (.914 save percentage/2.94 GAA) has to be better if he expects to keep the crease when Matt Murray returns.
4- Chicago: Want a red flag? The Blackhawks are 30th in shots per game, a 24.5.
5- Montreal: Jeff Petry leads the team with four points in two games.
6- San Jose: The Sharks are the best forechecking team in the league.
7- St. Louis: The Blues lost Kyle Brodziak, Carl Gunnarsson, and Jori Lehtera in one night. Ouch.
8- Florida: The Panthers are five seconds out of first place in the Atlantic.
9- Dallas: Kari Lehtonen 39-of-41 on shots faced since taking over for Antti Niemi on Saturday night. Who said goaltending was a problem for the Stars?
10- Nashville: Five of the Predators’ seven goals have come on the powerplay.
11- Minnesota: The Wild have scored 10 goals and have put 57 shots on goal in the last two games, both wins.
12- N.Y. Rangers: Chris Kreider is playing like a man possessed, with six points in three games.
13- Edmonton: Don’t look now but Connor McDavid is pointless in his last two games. His full-season pace has taken a nosedive, from 246 points to 123.
14- Boston: David Backes has injected energy back into the Boston lineup.
15- Philadelphia: Travis Konency tied with Claude Giroux for the team lead in points, with four. Ivan Provorov – who had rough go of it on Tuesday in Chicago – leads all rookies with 28.3 shifts per game. Not bad for a couple freshmen.
16- N.Y. Islanders: The Islanders 2.25 goals per game 26th in the league. They’ve lost three games by a combined four goals.
17- Detroit: Eight of the Red Wings’ 10 goals have come from three players; Mike Green (3), Darren Helm (3), and Thomas Vanek (2).
18- Anaheim: This is the second straight year the Ducks are winless through four games.
19- Colorado: The Avs are amidst a meat-grinder of a start to the season; facing Dallas, Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay, and Florida, in their first five games. The worst Colorado can finish is 2-3. Anybody would take that.
20- Calgary: The Flames have allowed a league-high 17 goals.
21- Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler account for five of the Jets nine goals.
22- Ottawa: The Senators are 3-1 despite an .869 save percentage from its goaltenders Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond.
23- Toronto: Auston Matthews is pretty good.
24- Buffalo: The Sabres are one of just three teams yet to yield a powerplay goal.
25- New Jersey: Two of the bold consensus predictions entering the season – the Flames wouldn’t be last in defense, the Devils wouldn’t last in offense. Yes, there’s still plenty of hockey to play, but neither respective unit looks very promising through a week of action.
26- Vancouver: Are the Canucks for real? Well, they beat a pretty good St. Louis team on Tuesday night.
27- Los Angeles: Only 27th because they have some good players and a pedigree of success in recent seasons. But man, do they look awful.
28- Carolina: Leading scorer for the Hurricanes? Who else but Lee Stempniak, with five points in three games.
29- Arizona: Mike Smith has a lower-body injury. It looked worse than that.
30- Columbus: 2017 Calder Trophy winner Zach Werenski has two points in two games while leading all rookies with an average time on ice of 21:55.