Lightning Playoff Preview
It Is finally here. The best time of the year. The long road to win Lord Stanley’s cup begins tonight with three games and the Lightning will open up their series against the New Jersey Devils Thursday Night.
The lightning were thinking they would be playing the Toronto Maple Leafs after their season ending loss in Carolina on Saturday Night, but our neighbors to the South the Florida Panthers took out the Boston Bruins one night later giving the Lightning the Atlantic Division title and the No. 1 seed in the East.
The New Jersey Devils, making their first playoff appearance since 2012 will be the first round opponent of the Lightning. All the Devils did was go 3-0 against the Lightning this season and this has all the makings of a pretty good series.
The Devils finished with 97 points and have gone 19-6-1 down the stretch to secure the No. 8 seed. Goalie Keith Kinkaid took over for the injured Cory Schneider after the All-Star break and has been red hot.
The Lightning bring their most talented and deepest team in franchise history to these playoffs and this depth will pay off in a win against the Devils in this first round.
Offensively, this team which led the league in scoring during the regular season, should be able to put a lot of rubber on Kinkaid. Stamkos, Kucherov and the ex- Ranger JT Miller will be a handful for the Devils to contain. Miller has been the best player offensively for the Lightning since being acquired at the trade deadline. And yes, Steven Stamkos will be ready to go in game one.
You have to be impressed with how the young kids have developed. They came up to the big show and were not intimidated and were able to step in and contribute right away.
Yanni Guarde who now has the lightning rookie scoring record has been sensational. Anthony Cirelli who was called up mid-season has produced when called upon and will have an increased role in the playoffs. Braydon Point had 12 game winning goals this season.
Defensively, the lightning struggled at times this season, but we saw a glimpse of how good this team can be when they are focused and playing with passion. The 3-0 shoutout of Boston a couple of weeks ago was a masterpiece. Textbook hockey at its finest.
This is the kind of performance this team is capable of, but we saw far too often during the season.
I think the addition of Ryan MacDonough to the blue line will really play off during the playoffs. MacDonagh has a ton of playoff experience and he was acquired by Steve Yzerman for his playoff experience.
The defense will have to keep New Jersey’s No. 1 line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri In check. This line as well as the entire Devils team is fast, disciplined, they skate well and can beat you a lot of different ways.
Not only is this Lightning team one of the deepest in Franchise history, but they have a lot of Playoff experience on the roster. The Lightning have a combined 1,145 games of playoff experience, while the young Devils team has just 545 games of playoff experience on the roster. Advantage Lightning.
Andrei Vasilevskiy had a record setting year in goal has he registered 44 wins, a club record and also set a club record with eight shutouts. Vasilevskiy does have 12 games of playoff experience, most of those games coming in the 2015-16 season when Bishop was hurt and the lightning lost to The Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Kinkaid will be experiencing his first playoff For New Jersey. Advantage Lightning.
On paper, the lightning should win the series going away, but that is why they play games. The lightning will still have to be fundamentally sound, and continue to excel on the PP. The Lightning finIshed third in the league At 22.6%. The lightning must also Improve the PK and be better at winning face-offs. The Lightning were 27th in PK at 76.1 %, and although the Faceoffs wins have improved since the arrival of JT MIller, The lightning are still in the bottom 10% at 47.2%.
I think we will see the best hockey the lightning has played all season. Jon Copper has said this team has been playing with a chip on their shoulder after missing the playoffs last season. So let the games begin.
Expectations are high in this town and rightly so. Lightning win it in 6 against the Devils.