Looking for a reason to believe in the Lightning?

by Gary Shelton on March 25, 2019 · 1 comment

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov is the top reason to believe./JEFFREY S. KING

Monday, 4 a.m.

They have come close, but they have not come close enough.

They have been near enough to the finish to sell tickets, but it has not been good enough.

They have dwarfed much of the NHL, but in the end, they have not been big enough.

Still, there are reasons to believe in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Here at the end of their best season in history, there are more reasons to think they will pull this off than to think they will not.

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Yeah, it's always easier to take the field than to take one team. In the NHL, there is always a reason to doubt, a reason to wonder.

But with the Lightning, there are reasons to keep the faith. Why not? Why be fatalistic about it. Wouldn't you rather have the Bolts' advantages than anyone else's?

Here are 25 of them:

1. Nikita Kucherov. Start with Kuch, the point guard of the Lightning. He'll probably win the Hart Trophy this season. And no wonder. He has 120 points this season, most of it because of his dazzling play-making ability.

2. Power play goals. True, they are scarcer in the post-season, but that also means that a team has to take the most advantage of them. The Bolts lead the NHL with a 29.2 shooting percentage.

3. Steven Stamkos. After fighting injuries and recovery for the past several seasons, Stammer has bounced back strong. His 39 goals are sixth in the NHL. and 19 have come on the power play.

4. Penalty kills. If scoring power play goals are important, so too is stopping the other team from scoring them. The Bolts lead the NHL with 85.5 percent.

5. Andrei Vasilevskiy. It's hard to talk about Vasilevskiy without bringing up the games he lost to a broken foot. His 36 wins still lead the NHL, and his save percentage is third. Vasy won 11 playoff games last year.

6. Goals. It's a game of putting the biscuit in the basket, and no one does it better than the Lightning. They lead the NHL with 301 goals (33 ahead of the second-place San Jose Sharks). They are averaging 3.96 goals per game.

7. Brayden Point. Point is the team's leading scorer with 40 goals, which puts him fifth in the league. He usually defends against the opponent's best player.

8. Defense. The Bolts do give up a lot of breakaway goals, but they're fifth in the league giving up 2.66 per game.

9. Jon Cooper. Cooper was the second-fastest coach to get to 300 wins in NHL history. The team isn't tired of his voice yet.

10. Victor Hedman. Hedman won the Norris Award last. year, and he's been good again this year. His presence on the Lightning is always felt.

11. Resiliency. Eight times, the Bolts have come back after trailing by two or more goals. Twice, they have come back from trailing by three. They're 21-11 when giving up the first goal of the game.

12. Ryan McDonaugh. The Lightning traded for McDonagh last year, but it has been this year when he's made his presence known. McDonagh leads the league in plus-minus.

13. Louis Domingue. Backup goalies aren't important in the post-season unless the starter gets hurt. Domingue has won 21 times this season.

14. Tyler Johnson. Johnson has 27 goals, the second highest of his career.

15. Amalie Arena. The Bolts have clinched home ice advantage thoughout the playoffs. With the team being 31-6-2, that's a big boost.

16. Adam Erne. The impression around the league was that the Bolts weren't big enough or tough enough to last. But Erne has helped to change that. Tampa Bay is fourth in the NHL in penalty minutes.

17. Anthony Cirelli. Cirelli continues to  blossom into a complete player. He's also gifted at short-handed goals. Cirelli is fifth among rookie scorers and is first at winning faceoffs.

18. Jeff Vinik. The guy's done everything an owner should do. He's due.

19. League domination. The Bolts are the third team since 2005-06 to total 120 points. The 21-point gap between them and the second-place team is the same as behind the second-best and 18th-best team in the league.

20. Closing ability. The Lightning is 30-1-2 when leading after one period. They are 37-2-2 when leading after two. They are 10-3 in one-goal games.

21. Extra time. The Bolts have been good in shootouts (six wins), but that won't count. However, the Bolts are 7-3 in overtime, and the playoffs are often decided then.

22. Depth. Not many teams have four lines like the Bolts. From Alex Killorn to Mikhail Sergachev to J.T. Miller, goals can often come from a player you don't expect them to come from.

23. Yanni Gourde. Gourde has 20 goals on the season. He plays well in traffic.

24. Focus. The Bolts have lost two games in a row only twice this season. A team beating them would have to win four of seven. It's an example that no goal short of the Cup will do. That may be their greatest strength.

25. Faceoffs. The Bolts improved to seventh in the league this year. A year ago, they were 15th. In the playoffs, little things make a difference.



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