The Stanley Cup playoffs have finally arrived and the Tampa Bay Lightning have home ice advantage when they take on the Montreal Canadiens in Game One tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. During the last game of the season the Lightning and the Washington Capitals found little room for separation, but ultimately the Bolts won in a shootout. Winning meant the Bolts got home ice advantage to take on the Montreal Canadiens tonight. The teams have played 4 games against each other this season, with the Bolts dominating in the regular season with a series record of 3-0-1.
Tampa’s quest for their second Stanley Cup will begin without goaltender Ben Bishop, who suffered an upper-body injury while diving for the puck in last week's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Had this injury occurred earlier in the season, as opposed to now, the Bolts would not have made it to the playoffs. Bishop was picking up the slack when Steven Stamkos broke his leg during a game on November 12th against the Boston Bruins. The Lightning learned to live without him, but now that Stamkos is back, there is something to be feared about the team.
Despite his injury and being gone for most of the season, Stamkos finished with 25 goals in 37 games this season. Clearly naming him the team captain on March 6th, after former captain Marty St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers, was a wise decision.
In spite of all of the injuries and hurt feelings this season, Head Coach Jon Cooper kept the guys moving forward. Half the team playing in Tampa won with Jon Cooper in the American League. They know what it takes and have been through the playoff battle.
Here are some of my thoughts on why I think the Lightning could repeat winning the Stanley Cup on the tenth anniversary of winning their first one:
The team continued to thrive even after the loss of their most important player.
Tampa Bay boasts the fourth-best offense in the East.
It didn’t look good for the Bolts back in November when Stamkos broke his leg, but the team more than survived without their best player.
Ryan Callahan has had a solid 20-game run following his trade to the team with former captain Marty St. Louis. All eyes have been on Stamkos, but I can guarantee that we’re in for some surprises with Callahan.
Stamkos is back, and is a dangerous play- and goal-maker.
Valtteri Filppula matched Stamkos for the team lead with 25 goals, while rookies Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat had 24 and 23 markers, respectively.
So much rides on Bishop’s able to come back during the playoffs and that could be the game changer here. There are also signs that this series boasts the possibility of being a tight one, but the growth of the team this season will triumph any more setbacks. Go Bolts and Be the Thunder!