Lightning Stanley Cup Hopes Not Dashed by Slow Start

Eight games into the season and the Tampa Bay Lightning were tied for last place in the Atlantic Division before beating the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 29 to move up to fifth place. As was predicted before the season began, the Atlantic Division is crowded and all the teams in the Eastern Conference have at least a .500 record, except for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

However, the Lightning have previously started slow, only to pick up steam as the season progressed. But let’s not panic, the Bolts should secure a playoff spot and make a run for their third Stanley Cup.

“I think they just gotta get in, even if they’re the eighth seed. Once they’re there, they can go all the way,” stated former NHL player and Lighting coach Rick Tocchet before their game against the Anaheim Ducks on the TNT pregame show on Oct. 26, 2022.

The Lightning’s Record Is 5-4

The Lightning are now one game over .500. They have had a tough stretch of games, with only two home games thus far. But they have won four of their last five. Winning two Stanley Cups and reaching the Final the last three seasons, they are expected to be one of the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

Although their record to begin each season is rarely a harbinger for playoff success, the Lightning have played inconsistently so far this season. For example, in 2018-19 they started the season 7-3 and ended with 128 points, and won the Presidents’ Trophy. However, during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they had one of the most legendary postseason collapses in NHL history when they were swept by the last-seeded Blue Jackets. It proved to the players that the regular season doesn’t mean much once the puck drops in the postseason.

Columbus Blue Jackets Oliver Bjorkstrand Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy
The Tampa Bay Lightning were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2018-19 Stanley Cup Playoffs after winning the Presidents’ Trophy (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jay LaPrete)

For comparison, the following season (2019-20), they sputtered out of the gate and went 5-5 in their first 10 games. The difference was that the Lightning won the Cup that year. Last season they also posted a 5-5 record to start the season and marched their way to the Stanley Cup Final, losing in six games to the Colorado Avalanche.

Brian Elliott Is Winning Games

So far, backup goaltender Brian Elliott has played three games, winning two of those contests. He made some impressive saves in his two wins even though he gave up five goals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although Andrei Vasilevskiy holds a better save percentage (.910) and goals-against average (2.87) this season, his record is only 3-3. But the good news is that it’s still early in the season and the Lightning have a reliable backup goalie to fall back on.

Related: Lightning Need to Give Vasilevskiy More Rest in 2022-23

That hasn’t always been the case. During the 2019-20 season, backup goalie Curtis McElhinney played three of their first 10 games, losing all three. Elliott’s solid performance in net takes the pressure off of Vasilevskiy and may make it easier for Lightning coach Jon Cooper to rest his number one goalie throughout this season. It’s imperative that he doesn’t play as many regular season games as he has recently because I’m not sure the team can overcome a long-term injury to their workhorse number one.

Lightning Are Dangerous in the Playoffs

In the early stretch this season, the Lightning have played inconsistent hockey. Last season, they struggled early, posting a .500 record after ten games, which included a three-game losing streak. I have never doubted their drive or commitment to winning, they just need to reduce turnovers, stay out of the penalty box, win some faceoffs, and hope the puck bounces their way more often than not.

Nick Paul Tampa Bay Lightning
Nick Paul, Tampa Bay Lightning (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

As the Lightning navigate their way through the early season, remember that they just need to secure a playoff spot. The team knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup and believe me, no one wants to face them as they try to advance to their fourth Cup Final in four years.