One of the intriguing things about this season’s playoffs is that once the play-in round is done, all the teams are going to be reseeded. That means the Tampa Bay Lightning can play any of the
eight seven teams competing in the play-in round. Since the league didn’t respond to our idea of letting the higher seeds pick their opponent, we’re going to point out why the Lightning should want to play any of them.
Could this be used as bulletin board material? Sure. Will opposing fans throw this in our faces should the Lightning somehow lose against their team? Probably. Possible jinx? If we believed in things like that. A little bit of fun as we wait for their opponent? Definitely.
Today’s first round victim: the Carolina Hurricanes
Why the Lightning want to see them in the first round
Both Tampa and Carolina are very skilled offensive teams who can skate their opponents around the ice. For a neutral fan it would be a fun series with lots of scoring chances and possibly even goals.
Despite the fact that the Hurricanes took the season series, the Lightning is still a more experienced playoff team whose players remember playing in the Stanley Cup final and several Conference finals. The Canes had a deep playoff run last year but were completely destroyed by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The rivalry between these teams has settle down since days of the Southeast Division and they have not met in the postseason before, however they will likely play each other a lot in playoffs in near future.
Hurricanes Regular Season
The Canes finished the regular season in fourth place in a very tight and strong Metropolitan Division and at the 6th place overall in the Eastern Conference with a .596 points percentage. If they could have played against the Western Conference they would have had a better result than the Dallas Stars, who eventually ended up in the round robin.
The top line of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov led the team in most scoring statistics, Aho led the team in goals (38) and overall points (66) and Teravainen finished the shortened regular season with most assists on the team (48). Aho also ranked 6th in goals in the whole NHL and tied with three other players for most shorthanded goals (4).
Besides Andrei Svechnikov, who scored 61 points in 68 games in his second full season in the NHL, another first round pick from one of the latest NHL drafts, Martin Necas, has finally made the regular roster scoring 36 points in 64 games, filling up the role of middle-six player for the Canes.
The Hurricanes cannot rely on Dougie Hamilton this postseason, who has been one of the best offensive defender in the league before suffering an injury in January. This season could have easily became the most productive in his career – in 47 games he scored 40 points.
In terms of advanced statistics the Hurricanes are a strong possession team which ranked 4th in CF% and 8th in xGF% in the league. The Canes are also a more offensive-orientated team than the Lightning as you can see from the Hockeyviz.com visualization below
Both teams have also pretty similar power play units, while Carolina’s penalty kill ranked higher than the Lightning’s.
The Lightning lost the season series 1-1-1
10/06/2019 Lightning lost on the road in overtime 3-4
11/30/2019 Lightning lost at home 2-3
01/05/2020 Lightning win on the road 3-1
The first game against the Canes in October was probably one of the worst Lightning performances in a recent history, they were completely dominated by the Canes. Alan had a more detailed breakdown of this game in case you’re interested.
The second game went much better for the Lightning but they simply couldn’t convert their chances into real goals, despite being a better team in this game. Both games happened during the Lightning’s early season slump, when the Lightning were out of playoff position till December. When the teams met each other for the third time, the Lightning were already on a six-games winning streak and outplayed the opponent, dominating them in the second half.
How things could go sideways
The Lightning are feeling better against offensive-orientated teams like the Canes than teams with strong forechecking and solid defensive systems like the New York Islanders and the Columbus Blue Jackets, however if the Canes are able to force the scenario from two of their earliest games of the regular season, the Lightning will get into trouble.
The Lightning need a confident performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy, who already struggled a bit with rebounds during first two games of round robin, and they need a functional power play, which could be lethal but has already gotten into slumps even during long winning streaks.
Bold Prediction if these two teams match-up
By the time this article is written the Hurricanes have already eliminated their qualifying round opponent New York Rangers and advanced to the first round of playoffs. Given that the Lightning will play tomorrow for the top-two seedings in the Eastern Conference, these teams won’t face each other in the first round and a more likely opponent for the Lightning are the Montreal Canadiens or the winner of series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In the distant case that Carolina and Tampa meet, I could imagine this series going to six or even seven games, although i’d still bet on the Lightning as a more experienced playoff team. Let’s say 4-2 for the Bolts.