The stage is set and the players, pardon the pun, are ready. The Tampa Bay Lightning will participate in the NHL postseason for the first time since 2010-2011.
The road to get to this place and this moment has been well documented by the amount of hardships that the relatively young Lightning squad have faced. They lost Steven Stamkos for most of the season, they traded longtime winger and the “heart and soul” Martin St. Louis and yet they have battled on.
New heroes such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Ben Bishop emerged to lead the team as old hands such as Victor Hedman, Sami Salo and Eric Brewer have been getting better and better.
All of this has led to their berth in the playoffs but now they will have to use their winning formula in the postseason.
They play against the Montreal Canadians in the first round, a team who has a similar makeup and a team who the Bolts have played in tight affairs.
In order for the Lightning to have the success they seek in the post season they will need two things: outstanding goaltending and timely scoring.
The former has been an issue until Bishop arrived but since he has not had much postseason experience, there is some question as to what he is able to do when the stakes are high. Bishop has to be the steady, calming presence he has been all year and not change. One has to wonder as to his health, he has been struggling with an upper body injury at times this year, and maybe Coach Jon Cooper should consider resting him at least in some of the remaining games played.
The second bit to the Lightning’s success is their timely scoring. Having their star center, who accounts for most of their points, go down tends to deplete a team of their offensive fire power. Having to trade a top-6 forward who was taking up the slack from said center doesn’t help either. However, the Bolts have been able to find ways to score through Johnson, Palat and company. Both Johnson and Palat have really tore up the league with Palat being named the Rookie of the Month by the league a scant few days ago. Johnson, on the other hand, just tied Steven Stamkos’ franchise record for most goals by rookie. He also has tied the league in shorthanded goals as he netted the eventual gamewinning shorthanded goal against, you guessed it, the Habs.
The Lightning are getting hot at the right time but the secret to success isn’t going to be completely overhauling their thinking and gameplay. It’s going to be the status quo, which surprising enough, has worked for them all year.
Good goal tending and timely scoring, that’s been their answer so far this season and it will have to be the same answer in the playoffs.
The stage is set, here’s to hoping the Lightning don’t forget their lines once the curtain drops back.