Ten Lightning players who could shine for Bolts

by Gary Shelton on April 10, 2018 · 6 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy must star for the Lighting./JEFFREY S. KING

Vasilevskiy must star for the Lighting./JEFFREY S. KING

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

It was when Tyler Johnson earned his hat.

It was when Nikolai Khabibulin became the wall.

It was when Marty became a legend.

Things change in the playoffs. The air becomes thinner. The space becomes tighter. The noise becomes louder. The moments become golden.

It will be that way, presumably, for the Tampa Bay Lightning, which opens its first playoff series Thursday against the New Jersey

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Point could shine in extra time./CARMEN MANDATO

Point could shine in extra time./CARMEN MANDATO

Devils. On paper, the Lightning is the better team; however, the Devils won all three games that the teams played this year.

So who does the Lightning need to play well?

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, goaltender: Vasilevskiy is coming off his first season as the starter for the Bolts, and he won 44 games. Not bad, since the all-time record is 48. Vasilevskiy, to his credit, has seven post-season starts (12 games total) in his career filling in for injured Ben Bishop, He's 4-5. It might strike you as unfair to put so much of the load on Vasilevskiy, but it's a goaltender's time of the year.

2. Nikita Kucherov, forward: In his last two post-seasons for the Bolts, Kucherov has scored 10 and 11 goals. He's been in a bit of a lull lately, but the more space he can find, the better off the Bolts will be.

3. Steven Stamkos, center: He's missed three games, which means there is a bit of mystery as to how he will play. Even before the injury, Stamkos was in a scoring slump. Still, few players see the ice like Stammer. If he's healthy, it helps.

4. Victor Hedman, defenseman: No one plays more minutes than Hedman, and no one anchors their defense better. Hedman might help with the scoring this series, but he'll be more important as a stopper of the New Jersey attack.

5. Brayden Point, forward: Point scored 32 goals this season, which was impressive enough. But his five successful shots in shootouts could be vital if the game goes into extra time.

6. Tyler Johnson, center: Sometimes, heroes come from nowhere. Sometimes, they come from the past. Remember how good Johnson was in 2014-2015? He had 13 goals and 23 assists in that playoff series, including the team's only playoff hat trick.

7. Yanni Gourde, forward: Gourde scored 25 goals this season, many of them in the heavy traffic in front of the net. His feistiness would be welcome.

8. J.T. Miller, forward: The Lightning was after Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline, but Miller might turn out to be the real find. Miller has 10 goals in 19 games for the Bolts.

9. Ondrej Palat, forward: Palat played in just 56 games and scored 11 goals. He could score a sneaky goal here and there.

10. Alex Killorn, forward: Killer had 15 goals this season. In his playoff history? He also had 15 goals. A gritty performer.

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