To the surprise of no one, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the first team to clinch a playoff berth this season.
Tampa got into the dance thanks to the efforts of the Anaheim Ducks, who mopped the floor with the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night by a final score of 8-2.
The Lightning have 106 points, a full 15 points ahead of the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division. They’ll finish no worse than third in the division and that’s only if they blow it all ahead of the playoffs. That scenario is not expected.
Tampa is now 51-13-4.
They’ve made the post-season five out of six seasons since 2013-2014, having missed the extra season in 2016-2017. Each of the past three times they’ve qualified, the Lightning have made it to at least the conference final. Last year, they lost to the Washington Capitals in seven games. We all know how that worked out for Washington.
This is the 11th post-season berth for Tampa and betting odds are already well in their favour, with PredictWise giving them a 27 percent shot at winning it all.
The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, defeating the Calgary Flames in seven games. Then it was Ruslan Fedotenko who sent Tampa over the edge, collecting two goals in Game Seven while goalie Nikolai Khabibulin held the door. Craig Conroy responded for the Flames in the third period but it was not enough.
Funnily enough, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs could feature a repeat of that year’s final round.
The Flames are first in the Pacific Division and first in the Western Conference with 89 points. While they’ve been losing momentum lately with four losses in a row, there’s no reason to think Calgary can’t get back into playing shape in time for a playoff run.
The Lightning are on another level altogether, however, and they’ve had everything working this season. Nikita Kucherov leads the charge in scoring. He has 108 points and leads the league in assists with 77. That 108-point mark ties him for a franchise record with Vincent Lecavalier, who centred that 2004 Cup-winning squad.
Tampa will play the Detroit Red Wings next. This will be the third of four meetings between the two. The Lightning have held the advantage thus far in a big way, winning 13 regular season games in a row against the Motor City opposition. That makes it the longest win streak against a single opponent in franchise history.
(Photo credit: NHL)