It has been an up and down season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. After coming oh so close to winning their second ever Stanley Cup title just one season ago, the team is now struggling to entrench themselves as one of the top eight teams in the tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race.
In what has been roller coaster of a regular season to this point and the fear of potentially missing the postseason becoming more and more of a reality, players have begun to step up and increase their level of play so that the team can avoid the disappointing reality of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs.
One of those players is Braydon Coburn, a 6’5 230 lb defenseman from Calgary, Alberta, Canada that has brought stability to what has been a pretty inconstant blue line of late.
Coburn was acquired by the Lightning on March 2nd, 2015 just before the NHL trading deadline in exchange for defenseman Radko Gudas and two draft picks, a first and third round selection. A physical, stay at home defenseman with the ability to chip in offense occasionally, Coburn was the addition to the Lightning blue line that General Manager Steve Yzerman hoped would solidify a top-4 defense core that already had Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Jason Garrison in the fold.
Coburn was to be the last piece to a blue line that had been rather inconsistent at times last season and had players like Andrej Sustr, Nikita Nesterov, and Matt Carle playing 17-18 minutes per night, either something they were not capable of or not ready to handle yet.
Coburn stepped in and did exactly what was expected of him: He checked, he made life difficult for the opposition in the Lightning defensive zone, and contributed offensively every now and again, including the game winning goal in game seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings.
Now in his first full season with the team, Coburn has been one of the more consistent players on the Lightning blue line, including a recent stretch where he has, at times, been the best player on the ice.
It seems like Coburn now has the green light to finally play the game how he likes to play it; something Head Coach Jon Cooper’s system allows. That is the ability for Coburn to jump up into the play and join the offensive rush. This may also be due to the emergence of fellow defenseman and Coburn’s main blue line partner Andrej Sustr, who has really stepped up his play and earned the trust of the coaching staff. In turn, this allows Coburn to be more aggressive, making him that much more dangerous offensively.
Of course, the main job for Coburn and his fellow blue line mates is to keep the puck out of their own net. Coburn has done just that lately, with a plus-three rating over his last 11 games and increased ice time due to the loss of Jason Garrison, who will miss two-four more weeks with a lower-body injury.
The Lightning currently find themselves out of a playoff spot with 26 games remaining this season. If the team wants to make it to the postseason, it will take the high level of play that Coburn has shown over his last few games for the rest of the season, especially with a hole left in the team’s top-four with the loss of Garrison to injury.