Tampa took down the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night to safeguard their chance at the Cup, defeating the Habs by a final score of 5-3 and running their season record against Montreal to a whopping 5-0-0. The Lightning are currently 47-23-7 on the year and have gone 8-0-1 against the Canadiens since the 2013-2014 season.
Tampa is one point back on Montreal in the standings, though, and that has to sting a little. For all their dominance in one-on-one contests, they still find themselves chasing – even if it is by a small margin.
“It’s highly doubtful we’ll see each other in the first round,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “So for us to sit here and say, ‘You know what? Did we exorcise some demons here from what happened last year?’ Sure we did. But, we can’t look at this and say, ‘Oh gee, we beat Montreal, all’s good.’ It’s just two more points we banked, we got into the playoffs.”
There was plenty of good news for Tampa on Monday, from the fact that Jonathan Drouin finally scored (he hadn’t in 42 games prior) to the performance of goalie Ben Bishop.
But Tampa has a lot going for it heading to the playoffs and that’s where things will get interesting for whoever faces them in the opening round.
Start with the trio of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Kucherov joined the others back in October and has stuck ever since, with no other line in hockey producing as much at even strength. They have 98 points, for crying out loud. Tampa’s next most productive line is the Steven Stamkos unit, with 40 points between them at even strength.
Obviously Stamkos is no slouch. Dude’s got 40 goals and he’s at 100 percent after the leg injury. He’ll be deadly in the post-season, no question, and he puts in nearly 20 minutes a game. He’ll also be facing the opposition’s toughest players and yet he’ll still produce, won’t he? Yes, yes he will.
Tampa also own two of the tallest netminders in the league, with Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy, and they’ll get solid play from both of them. Bishop has 37 wins, third in the NHL, and boasts a 2.37 goals against average. The Lightning allow 2.54 goals per game on average, but you have to remember that they had Evgeni Nabokov in the fold for a while. Post-Nabby, Tampa has only allowed 2.35 goals per game.
So yes, there’s a lot to like about Tampa going into the playoffs. Stamkos and Co. could shoot the lights out in the opening round and progress nicely from there. They’re a team to watch and they’re one of the deadliest at even strength, which counts for an awful lot when the going gets rough in the fight for Lord Stanley’s ultimate prize.