Here are a few things that have been kicking around in my head about the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup and how it’ll match up to the Devils.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are going up against the New Jersey Devils. All we’ve heard for the past month or so has been about Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon’s Hart Trophy expectations. Because they got hot at the end of the season, Nikita Kucherov’s amazing 100-point season has been forgotten and he’s not even being mentioned at all in the Hart Trophy conversation, despite being the favorite all the way up to the beginning of March.
While the media and some fans may have fallen asleep on Kucherov because of his slowdown in the later part of the season, I guarantee you that the Devils know exactly who and what he is and what he’s capable of. When he set’s his hair on fire, he’s nigh unstoppable. Add some Steven Stamkos and a dash of J.T. Miller at his side, and you have a recipe for an out-of-this-world offensive outburst.
And let’s not fall asleep on Brayden Point either. Throughout these playoffs, he’s going to be asked to go up against the opponent’s best. The other day, Matt Esteves did a comparison of Point against Patrice Bergeron. Now, we’re not saying he’s Bergeron (yet), but he does compare very favorably with him.
Not to think too far into the future, but if Point can show through a deep playoff run that he can and will shut down the opponent’s stars, you’d have to think the media will take notice and start thinking about him in the Selke race next year. He has the numbers to be in the conversation. He has the offense. He wins faceoffs. He’s a center. All of those things are a recipe for the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward (which often has a requirement of being a really good offensive force too).
On the blue line, I’m looking at Ryan McDonagh to step up. He’s had a fair to middling start with the Lightning. Granted, it’s probably more of an adjustment for a defenseman to learn a new system than it is a forward, and he did come to the team with a hand injury that kept him out for a handful of games before making his debut.
Not being on the power play, McDonagh’s probably not going to put up too many points. But I’d like to see him put up a few more than the three he had with the Lightning to close out the season. If Sergachev falters on the power play, or finds himself in the press box, I’d expect to see McDonagh up there manning the point of the second power play unit. That could also be what he needs to get him going offensively at even strength. But this is the guy we really wanted and needed when we acquired him on the trade market. It’s time for him to step up big.
Speaking of stepping up big: Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s had a rough go of it since new year’s day. His numbers haven’t been great, and he’s been a bit worn out as he admitted a little while ago. But I have faith that he will step up in the playoffs.
Let’s not forget that he’s been there, done that. He started a Stanley Cup Final game in 2015 at only 20 years old. Think about that for a minute. What were you doing at 20 years old? I can guarantee you weren’t starting a Stanley Cup Final game. Then he stepped in in 2016 and played basically all of the Eastern Conference Finals and took the eventual Stanley Cup winners to game seven. That, in spite of the Lightning getting manhandled and outshot in just about every game. Also as a 19 year old, he led his KHL team to the KHL Finals. He didn’t win the Championship, but he came darn close.
Vasilevskiy is older, and wiser, and more experience now. He’s had a full season-and-a-half as the number-one guy. He’s got the knowledge, the skills, the talent. I believe that he will step up and he will shine in the playoffs starting tonight against the New Jersey Devils.
The Third Line
The X factor for me is going to be our third line: Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, and Yanni Gourde are one of the most talented third lines in the playoffs this year. The Pittsburgh Penguins have proven that you have to have three strong lines to roll in the playoffs to have success. The Lightning have it. All three are playing like second-line players. Killorn and Gourde are capable of stepping up into a first line role if need too. And they all play solid defense. That’s a recipe for success.
The opponents are going to key in on Stamkos and Kucherov or maybe even the Point line if they get going. That’s going to leave the Cirelli line free to go wreak some havoc on the less capable third- and fourth-lines that the opponent is going to have to throw at them. And even if other teams try to send their top lines at them on the road, I have faith that they can keep up and keep them under control too.
Now... it’s time for the Lightning playoffs to begin. I’ll be in my seat. Ready to go. Ready to cheer.
WHO’S WITH ME?!
LET’S GO LIGHTNING!