After the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round series with Pittsburgh ended in seven games, we heard a lot about how the Penguins were dealing with major injuries. We heard how battling through the injuries may have caught up to them. We heard how their struggling power play cost them the series.
And now that the Lightning are up 3-0 against the Washington Capitals, we’re hearing about how some of the Capitals’ biggest stars are underperforming. We’re hearing about how the Capitals can’t handle the pressure. We’re hearing about how their struggling power play could cost them the series.
What we haven’t heard enough of is that the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing some very good hockey.
Yes, Dwayne Roloson has received a lot of credit and rightfully so. He’s made big saves when it mattered and he’s bailed his team out a few times. But Roloson isn’t the only reason the Lightning could end up in the Eastern Conference Final. Even though he’s playing very well, he’s not “Halaking” these playoffs.
The real story is that the Tampa Bay Lightning are a focused and dedicated team that sticks to a game plan and executes it with precision every night. That’s why they have won the last six games. That’s why they are on the verge of eliminating the Capitals.
Right now the Lightning are playing the kind of game that leads to playoff success. In addition to good goaltending, Tampa Bay has stars like Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos clicking. The Lightning are also getting timely goals from other players on the roster, like Steve Downie, Teddy Purcell, Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore and others. They’re playing a strong defensive game and they’re working hard. Their special teams are performing well also. Tampa Bay’s power play is ranked third in these playoffs and their penalty kill is second (first among teams that are still playing.)
The style that the Lightning play isn’t loved by everyone. The 1-3-1 has been called “the trap by yet another name.” Ken Campbell of the Hockey News says that the Lightning’s style of play means that they “must be stopped.”
If you love offensive, entertaining hockey focus all your energies on cheering against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The same organization that won a Stanley Cup living by the mantra “Safe is Death” has become a poster child for a style of hockey a lot of people don’t ever want to see again.
But it’s hard to argue with results.
Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins struggled with injuries and having Crosby and Malkin on the team may have been enough to defeat the Lightning. Yes, the Washington Capitals aren’t done yet and they may have some sort of coaching/motivation/discipline/other issues that make it difficult for them to succeed in the playoffs. Those things are true, but what’s also true is that the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing some very good hockey. The Lightning were able to exploit the weaknesses of their opponents thus far and win hockey games.
They stormed back from a 1-3 disadvantage against the Pens and they’re up 3-0 against the Capitals. Tonight they could conceivably end Washington’s season and find themselves in the Eastern Conference Final. They’re in this position because they’re talented and because they buy into a system that works.
And should we really be that surprised? The Lightning had 103 points during the regular season. That point title ties them with the Boston Bruins as the fourth highest total in the conference. Martin St. Louis was second in league scoring with 99 points. Steven Stamkos was fifth with 91. The Lightning scored 247 goals this season which was the second highest total in the Eastern Conference. They’ve scored 33 during these playoffs, which is the highest total in the league.
Yes, the Lightning can play a stifling defensive game and the 1-3-1 may not be the most entertaining thing in the world, but you can’t accuse the team of not scoring. They’re scoring goals and – more importantly – they’re scoring goals when they need them. Timely goals are the reason they’re here.
Last night the Tampa Bay Lightning turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead in 24 seconds. That outburst left Mike Knuble astounded:
“They’re uncanny when they want to get a goal. It’s like they just snap their fingers or hit a button. They just dial it up,” Knuble said. “You can see it’s like they’re flipping a switch. … It leaves you flabbergasted. You don’t know what to say about it.”
This isn’t just the trap. It’s the trap combined with some explosive, timely offense from a variety of players. That’s why it’s so deadly.
When the playoffs started, few people picked the Lightning as the team that would go far. However, since it now looks like that may actually happen, maybe it’s time to start giving them some credit.