On the Road Again
In game one of the playoff series between the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the visitors from Florida scratched out a victory in a double overtime game to win their third road game of this playoff season. Three playoff road wins puts Tampa at the top in the NHL at this point in this category.
Conventional wisdom dictates that to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, an NHL team must win away from home. Look at the regular season road records and most of the teams with the best road records made the initial cut as a playoff team. In fact, of the initial 16 playoff teams, 14 of those won 20 or more games on the road.
Further, only three teams that won more than 20 road games did not make the playoffs. Yes, San Jose, Dallas and Columbus ended up on the outside looking in but were in the hunt for the post season until almost the end of the season. For these three though, hovering at the .500 mark at home put an end to their playoff aspirations.
There were, however, two teams that did make the playoffs who did not win at least 20 road games. The Nashville Predators with 19 wins and the Tampa Bay Lightning with a paltry 18 road victories. To their credit, these two apparent road weaklings were very much the opposite at home. Tampa won 32 home games, most in the NHL. The team that came behind them in home wins was Nashville with 28 W’s at home.
The Least in the East or the Beast in the East?
It could be very easy for the casual observer to look at the 18-16-7 regular season road record of the Tampa Bay Lightning and say; this team will not go far in the playoffs. They simply cannot hoist the Cup being such an average road team. Some could even call them the Least in the East. But, there is more to this story.
I will tell you that to get to the heart of the matter, you need to peel back the layers to find out more about this Lightning team. Sure, their 18 road victories seem almost mediocre. So, I did some checking and found out a thing or two about just how shocked one would be with how the Tampa Bay Lightning actually did on the road. This is not a misprint. I did just say how well the Tampa Bay Lightning did on the road.
You see, I took the remaining eight playoff teams and looked at their road records against the 15 playoff teams on the road. The usual suspects were at the head of the class. The New York Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks all had 12 road victories against all playoff teams. Now comes the surprise, as the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with the Minnesota Wild and the Washington Capitals all had 11 victories on the road against all playoff teams.
Going one step further, looking at the road records of the eight remaining playoff teams against the other seven remaining playoff teams and the team with the best road record is the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7-2-1. That is better than any remaining playoff team. Both Washington and Chicago are 7-3 but thanks to a shootout loss in the Madhouse at Madison to the Blackhawks, the Tampa Bay Lightning is seemingly the Beast in the East.
The Road Less Travelled
Stealing game one also stole home ice for Tampa away from Montreal. This is the part of the equation that bodes well for the Lightning since they had the best home record in the regular season. Although, in round one against Detroit, the Lightning nearly screwed that pooch by going 2 -2 at home, nearly costing them that series.
Having won the first game in Montreal, should ease some of the playoff pressure for the youngest remaining team (in average age) from Tampa. After watching this team win a big game in Detroit when they were down 3 games to 2 in round one and then winning the opener in round two against the Canadiens, you could see the confidence swelling among the Lightning players.
Whatever challenge they seem to face, they not only meet it but have an answer for it as well. When Niklas Kronwall tried to knock Nikita Kucherov into August, Kuch came back with no animosity having been Kronwalled. When Detroit stole game 5 in the Lightning’s building, they calmly but confidently stole the series right back with a convincing game 6 victory by a score of 5-2.
When Kucherov’s first OT goal was waved off in game 1, this team did not hang its head. They fought, they battled into the second overtime until Kucherov scored the game winner. On the road, in front of a hostile crowd berating them non-stop.
You have to be Road warriors if you want to even smell the Cup. I am here to tell you that the Tampa Bay Lightning have what it takes to win on the road. They have the best road record of the remaining teams against the remaining teams in their barns. They have won more road games than any other remaining teams so far. Yes, these are the Road Warriors of this year’s playoffs thus far.