Thinking of the playoff opponents to come

by Gary Shelton on March 14, 2019 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Andrei Vasilevskiy is second in the NHL in save percentage./STEVEN MUNCIE

Thursday, 4 a.m.

So who do you fear? Well, no one.

Who concerns you? Everyone.

By now, we have established two things. One) The Lightning is closing in on the President's Trophy. It would take a slump unlike anything we have seen this year to stop them. Two) President's Trophy winners often fall on their noses in the post-season. Thanks to the format, the top-flight competition and the referees swallowing their whistles, it's a different game.

And so a Lightning fan looks around, and he weeps because there are so many world's to conquer. As good as the Lightning have been, and as dangerous, you can still imagine the league's tournament being too tough to survive. That's one of the challenges. There are a lot of good teams out there.

Oh, no one is as good as the Lightning, who have 110 points. As CBSsports says, "It'll be the upset of a lifetime if they don't make the Finals." Who else has a Kucherov? Who else has a Stamkos? Or a

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Point? Or a Hedman or a McDonagh or a Vasilevskiy? Who has Johnson or a Gourde or a Cirelli or a Sergachev. They've lost only two in a row twice all season. It'll take a terrific effort for an opponent to beat them four times in seven games.

But which one makes you leave the night light on? Who makes you nervous?

Rating the Challengers

East Division

1. Boston, 93 Points: The Bruins have gone 1-1 against the Lightning this season, and the last time the teams played, the Bruins pushed the tired Lightning around 4-1. Both David Pasternak and Brian Marchand have 30-goal seasons.Boston is third in the NHL on the power play.

2. Toronto, 89 points:  The Bolts are 2-1 against Toronto, a team that many thought would overtake them. However. Tampa Bay has outscored Toronto 10-3 in its two wins. John Tavares has 38 goals and Auston Matthews has 31 for the Leafs.

3. Washington, 89 points: The Caps aren't as strong as they were last year when they won the Cup, but they've had a good season. They haven't played Tampa Bay yet, but Alex Ovechkin and his 46 goals can equal the field against anyone.

4. New York Islanders, 87 points: The Islanders were supposed to fade with the loss of Tavares, but they've had a good season. They've allowed 15 fewer goals than Tampa Bay. They don't have a big scorer, but eight players have 15 of more goals.

5. Pittsburgh, 85 points. The Penguins can get sloppy on defense, but they can score with anyone. Jake Guentzel has 35 goals and Sidney Crosby has 33. Phil Kessel has 23 and Evgeni Malkin has 21. No one wants to play the Pens.

6. Carolina Panthers, 83 points. The Panthers are 0-2 against the Bolts. Sebastian Aho has 30 goals.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets, 81 points. The Blue Jackets are still trying to find themselves after importing four players at the trade deadline. Tampa Bay is 3-0 against the Blue Jackets and has a scoring edge of 17-3. Cam Atkinson has 38 goals.

Others:  8. Montreal. 9. Philadelphia.

West Division

1. San Jose Sharks, 94 points. The Sharks have 94 points, second to the Lightning. Joe Pavelski has 37 goals and Tomas Hertl has 31. The Sharks are complete enough to win the West. They're 1-1 against the Bolts.

2. Calgary Flames, 93 points: Anyone for a replay of the 2004 Finals, won 4-3 by the Bolts? Calgary has had a solid season, with 33 goals by Johnny Gautreau and 31 by Sean Monahan. The Flames are 0-2 against Tampa Bay.

3. Winnipeg Jets, 84 points: The Jets are a fast hockey team, which gives a lot of teams trouble. Mark Scheifele has 32 goals. The Bolts are 1-1 against the Jets.

4. Nashville Predator, 83 points: A hot goaltender can steal a series from a favored team. Enter Pikka Rinne, a Bolt-killer. Viktor Arvidsson has 28 goals to lead the way.

Others (currently). 5. St. Louis, 6. Dallas, 7 Vegas, 8. Minnesota, 9. Arizona.

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