TAMPA — The best from the West continue to be turned aside by the Lightning this season.
Tampa Bay remained perfect against Western Conference opponents after knocking off the top team in the opposite conference with a 5-1 victory against Anaheim in front of an announced crowd of 17,763 at the Forum.
Valtteri Filppula had a pair of goals and three points while Marty St. Louis had a goal and two assists to improve the Lightning’s record to 7-0 this season against teams from the West. Those seven victories have come against teams with a collective 64-22-15 record entering the night.
“That’s a good question,’’ Filppula answered when asked why Tampa Bay has been dominant this season against the West while other Eastern Conference teams have not fared nearly as well. “I think we’ve been playing well all year, we have been skating well and tonight we skated really well. That gave us a lot of chances in their zone.’’
Alex Killorn and Victor Hedman also scored as Tampa Bay capitalized on its dominant puck possession time on Thursday while Ben Bishop stopped 24 shots for his league leading 13th victory of the season, allowing fewer than three goals for the 13th time in 15 starts this season.
The Lightning improved to 14-5 and lead the Eastern Conference with 28 points.
Playing its second game without injured All-Star Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay played with a defensive mind set by controlling the puck, minimizing turnovers and staying in the Anaheim one for extended periods of time.
“That has been pretty much our blue print since the start of training camp,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We have to have the mentality of, we are not scoring every night. And when 91 (Stamkos) goes down, it’s not who is going to score that extra goal that we are missing, we have to keep the extra goal out of our net. And that’s kind of become our mantra now.’’
For the opening 11 minutes the blue print worked to perfection as Tampa Bay had the Ducks hemmed in their own zone, we giving very little opportunities when Anaheim did get into the Lightning zone before building the lead at 11:52 with some good puck work in Anaheim’s zone that led to Teddy Purcell finding Filppula with a cross-ice pass for his seventh goal of the season.
At the time Anaheim did not have a shot on goal, though the Ducks made up for that on their first power play chance at 13:14, getting six shots on goal with the man advantage, all of which were stopped by Bishop. Then on Tampa Bay’s first power play chance, Filppula sent a shot-pass through the crease that was deflected by J.T. Brown before St. Louis found the loose puck at 16:25 to snap an 0-for-22 drought on the power play. The goal was the first for St. Louis since Oct. 27 and his first point since Nov. 1.
“It feels good to score,’’ St. Louis.
Filppula scored a power play goal early in the second as Tampa Bay’s special teams help build the lead, but it was the Lightning’s play at even strength that proved the difference. Entering the game Anaheim led the league with 54 goals during 5-on-5 play and had a plus-24 goal differential on the season at even strength.
On Thursday Tampa Bay outscored the Ducks 3-1 at even strength.
“Special teams help, but if you can play 5-on-5, and you can outscore the other team 5-on-5, you are really helping your chances of winning,” Cooper said. “I thought we played a good game tonight. It was good to see us play sound defensively, we had the puck for a good portion of the night.’’
That’s the model for team success put in to play in training camp and being put into action thus far in the season.
“We have been using our speed, getting pucks 200 feet, great forechecking and not afraid to mistakes,’’ Hedman said. “We know we are off to a really good start and we just beat one of the best teams in the league. But it’s a long season, so we have to stay focused and pay attention to the details.’’