Prior to playing the Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper spoke at length about the home-ice advantage his team enjoys at Amalie Arena, the electric atmosphere giving the Bolts a boost of energy that has translated into wins.
On Saturday, the Lightning racked up another victory, a franchise-record 10th straight at home, beating the Blue Jackets 3-1 in front of 18,477 fans.
With the win, Tampa Bay (32-15-4, 68 points) remains in first place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, keeping pace with Detroit and Montreal, who each won earlier Saturday.
“We love playing at home,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose team improved to 21-4-1 at Amalie Arena in 2014-15. “We’ve had success here. The crowd from 307 all the way down, they rock this place out, and it energizes us.”
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop nearly recorded his second shutout of the season with 34 saves. Only Ryan Johansen’s late, third period goal with the game well in hand prevented the whitewash.
“Bish has been very good every game,” Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison said. “He’s the reason why we’re at where we’re at, and it’s amazing how many big saves he makes and makes it look like it’s nothing. A lot of credit goes to him.
“He’s our number one star every game.”
The Bolts won their second game in a row overall.
Columbus (21-24-3, 45 points) nearly escaped an uneventful first period without allowing a score, but a great series of one-touch passes between Garrison, Brenden Morrow and Brett Connolly led to the game’s first goal. Garrison caught a clearing attempt inside the blue line to keep the puck in the Columbus zone and found Morrow deep on the left wing. Morrow redirected the puck toward Connolly in the slot, and the former 2010 first-round pick one-timed a shot to the far post to beat Blue Jackets’ goalie Curtis McElhinney.
Connolly scored his ninth goal of the season, Garrison and Morrow grabbed assists.
“We thought it was pivotal that we get the lead, and we did that,” Cooper said. “So, you play with a little more confidence I guess when you have the lead, you’re not chasing it as much.”
Lightning rookie Cedric Paquette extended his goal streak to three games with the Bolts’ second goal at 10:02 of the third period. Alex Killorn sent a shot on goal that was stopped by McElhinney. Jonathan Drouin took a couple whacks at the rebound before Paquette flew into the picture to wrist the puck into the open goal for a 2-0 Lightning lead.
“I don’t think I changed anything,” Paquette said. “I’ve been doing the same thing every game, the same thing on the ice. Just a lucky bounce in the slot, and I was there.”
Paquette has scored five goals in the last three games after going 29 games without a goal.
“He’s putting the puck in the net, but he’s doing everything else too,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. “I think he’s creating his own chances and his own bounces with the way he’s working, working the boards, working well defensively. It’s fun to watch.”
Killorn and Drouin were credited with assists. Drouin now has a helper in three-straight games.
One minute and 41 seconds after Paquette scored, Valtteri Filppula put the game out of reach with his 10th goal of the season. Filppula skated into the right circle with the puck and, from the dot, picked a spot on the far post and hit the target to elude McElhinney and extend Tampa Bay’s lead to 3-0.
With Filppula and Paquette each scoring their 10th goal of the season on Saturday, the Bolts now have nine players in double figures for goals, the most in the NHL.
“Throughout the lineup, we’ve found ways to produce offense,” Connolly said. “We’re scoring a lot of goals, we’re keeping pucks out of our net for the most part, so we’re going to need that going forward.”
Johansen’s blue-line slap shot at 16:34 of the final period kept Columbus from being shutout.
Columbus held a slight 35-34 advantage in shots.
“It’s hard to get through the neutral zone (against Columbus),” Cooper said. “They forecheck you hard. They’ve got big D when you’re down there. They kind of smother you in the offensive zone. They’re a tough team to play against.”
The Lightning will hit the road for a mini, two-game trip to St. Louis (Tuesday) and Dallas (Thursday) before returning to Amalie Arena for a back-to-back set against a pair of Western Conference heavyweights, defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles (Saturday) and league-leading Anaheim (Sunday).
“Our home record is where it needs to be, so we’ve got to work on the road record,” Connolly said. “Looking forward, we’ve got a big month of February ahead of us.”