The Tampa Bay Lightning are heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2010-2011. Much like that run in 2010, they weren’t expected to make the post season this year.
The real question is how far can they go?
This Lightning team can be very frustrating for fans as they can hold their own against teams such as Boston and Pittsburgh, especially with a healthy Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos. The issue comes in that in more than enough cases the Lightning don’t lose to the other teams—they lose mostly to themselves.
They have the talent to make a deep run and have the depth to it, as no fewer than four or five players are healthy scratches each night.
What does it mean to “cause their losses?” It means making plays with the puck such as poor outlet passes, turnovers in front of the net and a goalie having a bad night.
Some of these things can’t be addressed such as a goalie having a bad night. Ben Bishop is human after all and will have normal nights where he isn’t keeping him in games but if they want to go far it boils down to their defense.
The defense has to play better and stick to the systems that Coach Jon Cooper has in place. If they do that then they will games because in the playoffs it isn’t about outscoring your opponent as much as it is about out possessing your opponent.
The last two Stanley Cup winners, LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, both possessed the puck at least 55 percent of the time during the playoffs. Right now, the Lightning is possessing the puck 51 percent of the time and rank tenth in their Corsi rating (puck possession stat).
The other thing that will help this team go far is Ben Bishop. If Ben Bishop gets hot right before the playoffs ala Jonathan Quick in 2011, the Bolts will have little to nothing to worry about. When Quick was able to carry the 2011 Kings to the Stanley Cup run, he earned himself a Conn Smythe trophy. Bishop can do the same and has carried this team for much of this year. A hot goalie makes any team dangerous in the playoffs.
So how far will they go?
If the aforementioned things happen, at least some of the time, they will definitely make it past a Carey Price-less Habs and go to seven games in the next round. If those things happen the whole run, well Bolts fans may want to hold off their summer vacation in May and June as this team will still be playing.
Either way, the Lightning will dictate how far they go and that’s a position that every team should want.