With the Stanley Cup Playoffs right around the corner, things are slowly but surely shaping up in each Conference as teams do everything they can to get their games in check.
Right now hockey fans are hearing a lot about the play of the New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders, and Montreal Canadiens. It is with good reason as all these clubs appear to be primed to make a run at hockey’s Holy Grail.
With that said, however, there is one team that is not getting the attention that it deserves. This particular team should strike fear into teams in the Eastern Conference as they definitely have what it takes to be the conference’s representative in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, currently tied for second in the Eastern Conference with the Montreal and just two points behind the conference leading New York Rangers, are built to succeed come spring time for several reasons. For starters, they have a high-powered offense.
One cannot talk about the Lightning’s offense without mentioning Steve Stamkos. Stamkos leads the team with 39 goals and 65 points and has been especially lethal on the power play with 11 tallies this season.
The Lightning also have many other skilled and productive forwards besides Stamkos. Players such as Tyler Johnson (25 goals and 40 assists for 65 points), Nikita Kucherov (26 goals and 31 assists for 57 points), Ondrej Palat (15 goals and 37 assists for 52 points), Ryan Callahan (21 goals and 27 assists for 48 points), and Valtteri Filppula (12 goals and 34 assists for 46 points), have all been key contributor’s to the team’s offense this season and should be dangerous come playoff time.
This hockey club also has a lot of grit. We are talking about guys that will win the battles along the boards, fight for pucks, go into the corner to dig out pucks and do what they can to give the team’s star players time and space to make things happen.
For the Lightning, these are guys like Callahan, Brian Boyle, Alex Killorn, Brenden Morrow, and Cedric Paquette are all muckers and grinders who can also produce when need be. These kinds of players are extremely important in the playoffs and luckily for the Lightning, they have several who can play that kind of role for them.
This team has also posted great records against top flight teams in both the league and their conference this season. Against the Rangers and Canadiens, the Lightning are a combined 7-0 this season.
This should show the rest of the league that they can play with the best. Those are just two teams, but at the same time, if the Lightning can beat the two best teams in the East on a repeated basis, there is no telling what they might be able to accomplish come April, May, and maybe even June.
Tampa Bay is a team that is also very well coached. Since joining the organization, Cooper has made the Lightning one of the best teams in the league and has done so by putting together the right lines, letting his offensive players be creative, and implementing a system that helps both the team’s offense and defense.
In the playoffs this year, Cooper should be able to roll four lines like he has all season. This will be extremely important because players will play a lot of minutes and get tired so each line will have to be able to step up, something Cooper has made sure of throughout the regular season.
One can also not forget that the Lightning have netminder Ben Bishop. Had Bishop been healthy last year in the playoffs, the Lightning just might have been able to beat the Canadiens in the first round.
Bishop is a big masked man who takes up a lot of space between the pipes, wins a lot of hockey games (34 wins this season), and makes the big save when his team needs one the most. While he does not have a lot of playoff experience, one should expect Bishop to be healthy and ready this time around as he looks to get the Lightning to the next level.
While there are a lot of good teams in the league that all have a good chance to win the Cup this season, one should keep an eye on the Lightning as they have all the right elements to be successful when it matters most.