Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 1/25/12
Life may not be so hot these days for ThunderBug. The official mascot of the Tampa Bay Lightning got zapped Wednesday. The club dismissed the part-time performer who cavorts at home games as the furry crowd-pleaser for spraying a less-than-amused Bruins fan with silly string last week during the Bolts' upset win over Boston. But there's another string that matters far more to the Lightning lately, and there's nothing silly about it: the team's unexpected run of four straight wins heading into the All-Star Break. Only a week ago, Tampa Bay was in an all-out nosedive, with seven straight losses and prospects of a turnaround grim at best. After all, head coach Guy Boucher and Co. were heading into a stretch that included a home contest against defending Stanley Cup champion Boston, which is first in the Eastern Conference's Northeast Division, and road games against two tough teams with winning records from the Western Conference's Pacific Division, the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes. But instead of watching their season spin completely out of control, the Bolts won all three of those games and added a 4-2 home win Tuesday night over lowly Columbus enjoying their first four-game winning streak of the season. "It's huge," said hot-handed Martin St. Louis. "You want to finish what you start. I don't think we'd like to have the break right now in terms of how we're rolling in games, but if you're going to get a break, you want to finish on a winning note and keep the streak alive and try to come back where we left off." It's too early to proclaim that the Lighting have resurrected their chances at the post-season. At the break, the team still finds itself next to last in the Southeast Division with a record of 21-23-4 11th place in the Eastern Conference and nine points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. But that's a far better position than last week when the season appeared to be falling apart at the seams. And it's particularly impressive considering Tampa Bay has gone on its must-win streak with nine players hurt, including such key names as defenseman Victor Hedman, right wings Ryan Malone and Ryan Shannon and center Tom Pyatt. The good news for the Lightning is that all those players are expected back soon after the games kick back in. Whether a healthy, resurgent Lightning squad can make a surprise run at the post-season is questionable especially given its prolonged inconsistency and often poor defensive play but at least there's a glimmer of life that didn't exist a week ago. The Lightning got a big helping hand from two familiar sources Tuesday, as old stalwarts Vinny Lecavalier and St. Louis rekindled images of their glory days with a goal and assist each. In the process, Lecavalier extended his season-high point-scoring streak to six games (with three goals and seven assists in that span). Meanwhile, St. Louis, who missed five games in December with a fluke eye injury sustained in practice, now has 21 points in his last 18 games. And if there's any doubt how much difference his presence makes, St. Louis now has assists in the last six games the longest streak by a Tampa Bay player this season. But the Bolts also got a contribution from an unlikely source in the first period. Rookie Mike Angelidis, called up only earlier Tuesday, scored a goal on his first NHL shot. Not a bad way to begin a career at the top level after 353 AHL games bouncing between Norfolk and Albany. "It felt unbelievable," he said. "During the celebration, I thought I was going to faint. It's a dream come true." To Boucher, the infusion of talent from the AHL, bolstering the Lightning's battered roster, has been a key part of the turn-around. "It means a lot for our guys to fight and push and the fact that the guys that are coming up are able to play with us it makes a gigantic difference," he said. "We've talked about the first step for our organization is to build depth and when you see those players come up we've got nine regular players missing; it's not just one or two holes you have to fill and the guys are able to do it night after night and every guy has found a way to contribute. "That's rare. We're on the right path to find our depth. The guys that are working with the American League are doing a good job and the guys themselves are figuring out what they need to do when they come up here. It's a must if we want our organization to win in the future; it's a really good sign a major building block." Goalkeeper Mathieu Garon improved his career record against the Blue Jackets to 8-1-2 with the latest win including a 2-0 mark this season. It was also his third consecutive victory, matching his season high and raising his home record to 9-4-0. When play resumes, the schedule is definitely in the Lightning's favor. The first four games are at home, where the team is 13-7-1: Washington (Jan. 31), Winnipeg (Feb. 2), Florida (Feb. 4) and Los Angeles (Feb. 7). One big key will be starting off strong, something that has been a problem through much of the season. Just how big a difference is it when Tampa Bay holds a lead after two periods? The Bolts, in fact, are 13-1-0 with lead heading into the third period. And with a healthier lineup, and a team suddenly playing with renewed confidence, anything is possible. For now, Boucher is just glad to hit the break on such a high note. "Every time you get a win right before a break whether it's Christmas or this you want to make sure everyone's on the same page about trying to get back to our families, loved ones, the people that are going to be with us on these breaks," he said. "We care so much about what happens, sometimes it takes us a day or two to decompress and give them our time." The pressure will be back soon enough. And if the last four games were any indication, ThunderBug should have plenty to celebrate without, of course, any silly string.
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