The NHL Stanley Cup playoff lineup is confirmed, and 16 teams begin their quest to try and lift Lord Stanley’s unique trophy. To win the playoffs you need to win 16 games, four series’ in total, with four wins required in each to advance. This is grueling stuff, certainly not for the faint hearted and to be standing at the end of it all in June requires a special combination of skill and mental strength.
The latest NHL betting odds have Tampa Bay at +180 favorites to lift the title in 2019, and that price is based on their exceptional regular season form. Tampa Bay was by far the best team in the league, winning 62 of their 82 games to record 128 points. That put them 21 points ahead of the next best Calgary Flames, who were out in the Western Conference, and division rivals the Boston Bruins.
You only have to glance down the league leaders for various stat lines throughout the regular season to see exactly why Tampa Bay dominated so much. Nikita Kucherov led the entire league in scoring with a huge 128 points, 12 ahead of his nearest rival Connor McDavid. He was the standout for the Lightning, but not the only player to come to the fore.
Steven Stamkos chipped in with 46 goals on the year, and if you take out Kucherov then Stamkos would be getting all the praise for driving the team forward during the regular season. Ben Bishop was the number one netminder at the club, but cap issues forced Tampa into dealing him to the Los Angeles Kings. They certainly haven’t missed him up to now, with Andrei Vasilevskiy leading goaltenders in the league with 39 wins on the season.
Defensively they are very impressive too, and the addition of Ryan McDonagh was seemingly the final piece in the puzzle. He gives them the depth they need to compete with the very best, both in their defensive lineup and their attacking prowess.
While it is never the case to assume that teams are capable of taking their regular season form and playing that way in the playoffs, Tampa Bay has shown us all just how good they can be. They have shown a level of form in the regular season that has installed them as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this Spring.
The past few years have all been working towards this run at the Stanley Cup, and their golden age is right now. Fans last saw their team lift the cup in 2004, and it is fair to say they are long overdue. This year was the first time they have won the Presidents Trophy, giving them vital home-ice advantage throughout the entire playoffs, if they reach the final, and you cannot underestimate that.
A loss to Washington in game seven of the Conference Final hurt last season, and while we have seen the Lightning bounce back well in the regular season, the playoffs are of course, a very different proposition.