Tampa Bay’s big guns finally have solid supporting cast

Casey Ippolito
tampabay

For years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been comprised of two superstars having to do it all themselves. That’s no longer the case.

Tampa beat St. Louis 4-2 on Saturday night, in a game that saw Steven Stamkos and Martin St-Louis combine for one point. (The point was an absolute beauty of a snipe by Stammer, but still, just one point between the duo.) Fittingly, the win came against a Blues team lauded for its depth, much of which they developed from within. Like the Blues, much of Tampa’s young talent is homegrown and was on display in the victory.

The game’s first star was Alex Killorn, who’s been tagging along with Stamkos and St-Louis lately on left wing and has produced 12 points in 14 games. Killorn, 24, is one of several Bolts who played under Jon Cooper at the American League level for the Norfolk Admirals during their championship 2011-12 season. That team was sensational. Tyler Johnson was its No. 1 center and Ondrej Palat was productive as a 20-year-old, a year removed from starring with Drummondville of the Quebec League. Johnson and Palat are now linemates and regulars with the Bolts.

Two other former Admirals, Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio, have graduated to the Lightning blueline. Gudas in particular has been a standout, averaging nearly 20 minutes a night paired with Matt Carle. Fewer than 40 games into his NHL career, Gudas has developed a reputation for being fiercely physical. Already, the whole league knows he hits like a truck.

The best player on that Calder Cup-winning Admirals team was Cory Conacher, and he was used as a trade chip to land Tampa’s current No. 1 goalie, Ben Bishop. He’s been superb and consistent this year between the pipes, perhaps the reason most responsible for Tampa’s early success besides the firepower of Stamkos and St-Louis.

Beyond the kids, there’s the second line of Ryan Malone, Valtteri Filppula and Teddy Purcell. Filppula has been a model No. 2 center after signing as a UFA in the summer. Many people criticized the signing at the time, but so far it looks like GM Steve Yzerman was right and his critics were wrong. The former Red Wing is younger and cheaper than Vincent Lecavalier, and just as productive.

There’s no greater testament to the strength of Tampa’s secondary players than Yzerman’s decision to return Jonathan Drouin to the Halifax Mooseheads. He’s a spectacular talent who could have produced in the NHL this year. We projected in the Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide that Drouin would make the Lightning and score 53 points, and he probably would have reached that mark had Yzerman kept him in the NHL. Yzerman, though, had the luxury of a talented farm system full of players in their early twenties who’d competed together and won an American League title. Yzerman, given his background with the Red Wings, knows better than to rush youngsters.

The Lightning, for now, are tops in the Atlantic. Stamkos has been their MVP and St-Louis a close second, but they’re not 10-4 without contributions throughout the lineup.

Here’s Stamkos’s snipe against the Blues from Saturday night.