Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning finished the regular season with an astounding 62-16-4 record to go along with 128 points-signifying one of the best single-season records in National Hockey League history. A week-and-a-half later, their season was over as the Bolts were swept in the first round in surprising (and convincing) fashion at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets sending shockwaves across the hockey world.
This year, the 2019-20 (pandemic-shortened) regular season ended for the Lightning after 70 games that saw the team post a 43-21-6 record with 92 points. Four-and-a-half months later, and the Bolts once again locked horns with the Blue Jackets. This time, however, the result was much different, as Tampa Bay prevailed in a tight-checking series, four games to one. The proverbial dragon, for all intents and purposes, had been slain.
Although the Lightning are still a very good hockey club, they’re far different (and much more imposing) than the team we saw in April 2019. What changes did they make, what type of impact will they have on round two and beyond, and why should opposing teams be fearful of them? Let’s read on and find out the three reasons to fear the Lightning.
Reason # 1: Superstar Power & Talent Aplenty
When fans and those “in the know” across the NHL think of the Lightning, they typically start with their vast plethora of top-tier players. This roster alone boasts the likes of star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, game-changing forwards Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos, and a real, mean blue-line consisting of Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, and 2020 Norris Trophy nominee, Victor Hedman.
The amount of elite-level talent on the Lightning is truly something to behold. Even in a close encounter, the Bolts have the personnel to turn any game on its head. In the NHL playoffs where games are so highly contested, the Bolts are capable of breaking a game wide open. One mistake or mental lapse from the opposition is all it takes for the Lightning to pounce. For a league that prides itself on the presence of superstars, Tampa Bay has its own fair shares of game-breakers in all three zones. Look out for Point, Kucherov, Hedman, and company as the playoffs continue.
Reason # 2: “New Look Bolts”
After last year’s shocking first-round against Columbus, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois immediately went to work. His goal? Ice a more balanced lineup capable of winning playoff rounds and being a team that’s much more difficult to play against. His additions were significant and included the likes of Patrick Maroon, Barclay Goodrow, Mitchell Stephens, and Blake Coleman upfront. BriseBois also bolstered his blue-line with the additions of veterans Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian.
As any hockey fan would attest to, competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs requires more than skill and talent. At the time of each of these deals, BriseBois envisioned a team with more depth, “sandpaper”, speed, experience, and roster flexibility, something they were severely lacking last year. Sure, the Bolts can defeat you with sheer, raw skill, but now they possess the aptitude to beat you with a strong four-line game, and depth that stems throughout their lineup. As a fan watching from afar, I certainly applaud the excellent work that BriseBois and his staff have done in reshaping the Lightning for the 2020 postseason.
Reason # 3: Commitment to Defense
The single-largest fundamental difference between last season’s Lightning and this years’ is their commitment to team defense. Many Lightning players referenced how they’re “patrolling the ice” more, limiting time and space for the opposition, and defending in all three zones. During their series against the Jackets, the Bolts simply won the “ugly ones”. Each of their four series wins was by a single goal, and two came in overtime. During game one, the Bolts outlasted the Jackets in a five-overtime marathon to take an all-important game one. Wins like that go a long way over the course of a series. The Lightning were ecstatic that they were on the winning side of it.
The Bolts blue-line also has a different look and feel to them inside the NHL bubble. Along with Hedman, McDonagh, and Sergachev, they’re a much deeper defense core with the likes of Erik Cernak, Shattenkirk, and Bogosian rounding out their top-6. This d-core is big, physical, mean, and can really play the body, which was something they just couldn’t do last spring. I really like what I see from the Bolts all-around defensive game, and that spells trouble for opposing teams.
Round # 2
As we get set for the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no one truly knows for certain how each of the four remaining series will unfold. One thing we do know is that the Lightning will be prepared for their opponent, the Boston Bruins. They will be looking to eventually hoist Lord Stanley’s mug for the second time in franchise history. There are ample reasons to fear the Bolts in the second round. They are simply one of the best teams still left standing in the playoffs. How far will they go? Only time will tell.
Check us out on our socials:
Follow Dom Lunardo on Twitter @TapetoTape88
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images