Rumblings about the Tampa Bay Lightning running out of gas have subsided during the team’s impressive playoff run in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions had another impressive season (51-23-8) but finished third in the competitive Atlantic Division behind the Florida Panthers (58-18-6) and Toronto Maple Leafs (54-21-7).
Media and fans alike wondered if Tampa Bay had the energy and desire to go through another grueling playoff run. After all, the team has won eight playoff rounds since the start of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the Lightning have answered those questions and appear poised to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup in less than three years.
Concerns about the Lightning playing too many games over the past three years were warranted at certain points during the team’s first-round series against the Maple Leafs. Toronto held a 3-2 series advantage and had a chance to close the series in overtime in Game 6 and then on home ice in Game 7. Instead, the Lightning persevered and now look stronger than ever.
Tampa Bay swept the President’s Trophy champion Panthers in the second round, outscoring the opposition 11-3. Money Puck gave the team a 21.9 percent chance of winning the Stanley Cup before the series-clinching Game 4, but even that is too low.
Doing It Without Brayden Point
What’s most impressive about Tampa’s dominant performance through three games in the second round is that the team has been without Brayden Point, who has emerged as one of the league’s best forwards and one of the most dominant playoff performers. Point, who had 56 points in 46 playoff games over the past two seasons, suffered a lower-body injury during Tampa’s Game 7 victory over the Maple Leafs.
Point’s injury seemingly woke up the Lightning, and the team has been firing on all cylinders since. Tampa hasn’t exactly been upfront about Point’s status for the remainder of the playoffs, but the team has been dominant since he went down. If Point returns, they would be an even scarier opponent presenting unbearable match-up problems.
Andrei Vasilevskiy Has Figured It Out
The Maple Leafs made Andrei Vasilevskiy look pedestrian through the first five games of the first round. The 2021 Conn Smythe winner allowed 18 goals during those games but has only allowed one goal in four consecutive games dating back to Game 7.
Vasilevskiy recorded the second-worst save percentage (.916) of his career in 2021-22 but is starting to look like the same dominant goaltender he’s been in the last two playoff runs. If the New York Rangers advance past the Carolina Hurricanes, he would have a formidable foe in Igor Shesterkin, but the Lightning would have a significant advantage on offense.
Speaking of elite goaltenders, read about the Calgary Flames’ Jacob Markstrom here.
Offseason and Deadline Acquisitions Once Again Coming Through
While the core of Point, Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman have been integral to Tampa’s success, the team has gotten a lot of mileage out of its depth players in the last two playoff runs. This year is no different.
Nick Paul, who was acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline, scored both goals in Tampa’s 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Leafs and had six points through 10 games. Brandon Hagel, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks, had four points and provided bottom-six energy and intensity.
It’s also hard to ignore the Corey Perry effect. The veteran has scored five goals through 10 games and has perfectly complemented Tampa’s star players. Perry reached the Stanley Cup Final in each of the last two seasons but was on losing ends with the Montreal Canadiens and Dallas Stars.
The third time will be the charm.