For the most part, it was a successful first 36 games of the season for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They sat atop the Eastern Conference for a large portion of the season and saw every piece of the team functioning at a high level. Goaltender Ben Bishop played well, the young forwards quickly formed a strong, cohesive unit and the signings on defense seemed to be paying off.
And then December came, where the Bolts started the month by losing seven out of eleven games and losing Bishop indefinitely.
Then, before a three-day Christmas break, into town strolled the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that had beaten the Lightning ten straight times.
And in less than 23 minutes, the Lightning were up 4-0. Things got a little tight near the end, but a 4-3 victory against the top team in the conference after struggling for weeks is certainly an acceptable way to head into the break. Any way you slice it, this was a crucial, statement win for the Lightning.
The break should give any bruised Bolts time to heal (all reports have Bishop projected to return within a week), and the team can refocus for the upcoming second half.
The rest of the league knows Tampa Bay is here to play. It’s now time to go out and prove the first half was no fluke.