Can Bolts’ defense stand up in the playoffs?

by Gary Shelton on April 12, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hedman anchors the Lightning defense./CARMEN MANDATO

Hedman anchors the Lightning defense./CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 4 a.m.

They can blow up a scoreboard. They can leave melted tracks in the ice. They can wear out the goal nets.

They can score fast, and they can score in bunches, and they can score throughout the lineup. Yeah, the Tampa Bay Lightning can be a fireworks show, all right. At a moment's notice, they can turn a game of hockey into a game of pinball.

Ah, but can they stop the other guys?

In particular, can they run away from the New Jersey Devils as their playoff series begins tonight?

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McDonagh needs to show why Bolts traded for him./CARMEN MANDATO

McDonagh needs to show why Bolts traded for him./CARMEN MANDATO

This is the nagging concern of a lot of Bolts' fans. Everyone is aware the Lightning can score, but it also tends to give up a lot of sloppy goals. It has had trouble slamming the door. It has given up too many odd-man rushes.

Now that the league is in its second season, will anything change?

Oh, on paper, the Bolts should be fine.

Stralman has been a solid defender./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Stralman has been a solid defender./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

They have an all-star defenseman in Victor Hedman, a calming influence who just might be the team's MVP. His 17 goals is tied for the most by a defenseman this season.

"He's a rock-solid player," teammate Anton Stralman said. "He's a force, really. He's a great player."

They have the vet Stralman, a heady player who doesn't make a lot of mistakes.

They have Ryan McDonagh, their prize acquisition from the trade deadline.

"They've got speed," McDonagh said. "They're sound. We can't force anything."

They have an impressive rookie in Mikhail Sergachev.

Sergachev looking forward to his first playoff series./CARMEN MANDATO

Sergachev looking forward to his first playoff series./CARMEN MANDATO

So why does the team play chase so often? Seriously, they spend long stretches of time looking like the Bucs' secondary. Or like they're staring down the Daytona field.

Breakdowns. Bad changes. Silly turnovers. And so forth.

It's no secret that goaltending is the key for most teams in the playoffs. But it doesn't help Andrei Vasilevskiy if he's going to be exposed too often.

Despite the 44 wins, you can't blame the Devils for being confident. They've beaten the Lightning all three times the two played this year.

"He's one of the best goalies in the world," Stralman said. "I don’t think experience matters when you have the mentality he has and the mental strength. He’s going to carry this team the way he’s been doing all year. I’m real excited to see him showcase what kind of player he was.

Vasilevskiy needs a solid defense in front of him./CARMEN MANDATO

Vasilevskiy needs a solid defense in front of him./CARMEN MANDATO

For all of the talk about the Bolts' offense, however, defense will be important.

Consider this: In the Lightning's last 22 games, they gave up three goals or more in 17 of them. Overall, the Bolts are only 13th in goals allowed at 2.85. They're tied for 10th with shots allowed.

In Tampa Bay, of course, we know all about defense. And the truth is, in the one Stanley Cup season the team has had, the defense was a hidden strength throughout the playoffs. In 23 games, it allowed three goals or more only eight times. Seven of those were losses.

Can they play better against New Jersey?

Easy answer: They'll have to.

 

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