For the last several years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been knocking on the door to the Stanley Cup. Last season, they were the top team in East, only to be bested by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Washington Capitals. However, this year, from the drop of the first puck in October, the team down by the Bay have been the very best team in hockey. They have already locked up the President’s Trophy and they sit a gaudy 19 points ahead of the next best team, the Boston Bruins.
With the playoffs right around the corner, can anyone slow down the Lightning as they look for their first Stanley Cup Championship in 15 years?
It’s hard not to look at the Boston Bruins as the team most equipped to knock off the Lightning.
In addition to their star power on their top line, the Bruins boast one of the best defensive teams in the league as well as one of the best goalie tandems in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. If the Bruins can get consistent depth scoring throughout a seven-game series, it could prove too much to handle for the Lightning. However, it is much easier said than done.
The Bruins rely heavily on their top line and for much of the season, they have delivered. The only thing that has really slowed them down, at times, is the injury bug. However, if the Lightning are able to keep them off the scoreboard, a potential series between the two could look a lot like last year where the Lightning did away with the Bruins in five games. In last year’s second round, the Bruins jumped on the Lightning 6-2 in game one but managed just seven more goals in the next four games as the Lightning advanced to the Conference Finals with four-straight wins.
The Lightning are even better this season but so are the Bruins.
The Boston Bruins can slow down the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Bruins and Lightning have split their season series so far with each team having been victorious at home. In their first matchup, the Bruins were without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Kevan Miller. The game came down to the final minutes as the Lightning ended up on top, 3-2. In their most recent matchup on February 28, the Bruins scored three goals in less than two minutes en route to a convincing 4-1 win.
The Lightning are known for their high powered offense which features the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. They’ve scored a total of 287 goals on the year and have a +96 goal differential. For comparison, the next highest goal total is 261 and the next best goal differential is +50.The Bruins have the defense and goaltending to slow down the Lightning attack. They’ve given up a total of 185 goals on the year which is good for third best in the league.
The Bruins and Lightning meet two more times this season. The Lightning have clinched the Atlantic Divison as well as the Presidents’ Trophy, securing home ice throughout the playoffs. The Bruins are in the midst of battling for home ice in their inevitable first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thanks to the NHL playoff format, if the Bruins and Lightning each advanced to the second round, they would meet up in the Conference Semifinals in a rematch of last year’s series.
The NHL playoffs are less than a month away. It can’t come fast enough.
As it stands right now the Tampa Bay Lightning are the clear cut favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season. They have already clinched the President’s trophy for most points in the league. With 9 games remaining in the season they have 116 points. The next closest team is the Boston Bruins who have 97.
The simple answer is that there is no team that can stop the Lightning. They have the NHL leading point getter in Nikita Kucherov, fellow All-Star Steven Stamkos and youngster Brayden Point. The team has five 20-goal scorers up to this point and 11 players who have at least 10 goals so far. They average near four goals per game. It is almost impossible to beat this team.
With that being said, there may be a few teams that could potentially give the Bolts some trouble. Calgary is a team that comes to mind. The Flames have an offense that can match the Lightning offense. They average just over 3.5 goals per game with an offense led by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
The only problem with the Flames would be needing to find a consistent goaltender. Mike Smith and David Rittich have split duties this season and neither goalie has been spectacular. Smith has a 2.88 GAA and Rittich has a 2.65 GAA. In order to take down the Lightning, any goalie that crosses their path is going to need to stand on their head.
— Full Press NHL (@FPC_NHL) March 20, 2019
I am of the belief that Tampa Bay can get upset in the opening round by Pittsburgh or Washington. Obviously, Toronto and Boston have been powerhouses in this regular reason, but Tampa Bay is in a league of their own.
That said, playoffs bring out grit and talents of a different level. Pittsburgh and Washington still have those dynamic players and other role players who have been there before. The recent play from Sidney Crosby reminds us that he is capable of taking a game over singlehandedly. Washington, on the other hand, is still the defending champs.
I am predicting the eighth seed sends Tampa Bay to the beautiful golf courses in Southern Florida earlier than expected. Obviously, in a later round, Boston is a well-rounded team capable of pulling the upset as well. But Upset by low seeded Penguin will not only slow down Tampa….they will stop the Lightings quest for Lord Stanley.
I think the Lightning are beatable.
I think what helps them be as good as they are is the fact that they play in the Eastern Conference which is less physical than the Western Conference. Something that plays to the Lightning’s strength, which is speed. Therefore, this could make them susceptible in the playoffs if they are not able to play their uptempo game. Therefore, the best opportunity for a team to stop the Lightning may come in the Stanley Cup Finals against whatever team comes out of the Conference. As great as they are, Tampa Bay has yet to show they can withstand a physical showdown with a team that is as deep. And, out West, there are plenty of teams that fit that bill.
This assessment doesn’t even include the fact that I think Boston and Washington will give them a hard time if they match up. Toronto doesn’t feel like a team that can go a full seven-game series with the Lightning as they lack the depth and the physicalness to offset Tampa’s speed.