The Tampa Bay Lightning have a rare opportunity for a historic feat. Should they make a run through the playoffs and complete the championship three-peat, they would be the first NHL franchise since the New York Islanders dynasty of 40 years ago to win the Cup three straight years. It is a daunting challenge to make their way through the deep Eastern Conference, and then knock off the Western Conference winner, but the Lightning are a team that has the capacity to do just that, and there are three main reasons why it can be done.
The Lightning Have Great Depth
The first two players that come to mind when you think of Tampa Bay are Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. However, the Lightning are capable of getting consistent production from all four of the lines during the playoffs. One of the biggest boosts to the team’s depth came at the trade deadline when the Lightning acquired Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel. Paul can get up the ice quickly for a player his size, and has a tremendous stick for a big man. Hagel will bring the defensive aspects of his game to the third-line while taking on a prominent role in the penalty kill. In the playoffs, teams need gritty players who can make the tough plays in front of the opposing goaltender. Corey Perry and Alex Killorn can both take away goaltenders’ line of sight and make them uncomfortable in the paint.
Perry frequently skates on the fourth line with Pat Maroon and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, a line they call the “School Bus” because they frequently carry each other. When they have played together, they have been very consistent, providing that great depth throughout all four lines that have been so much a part of the Lightning’s success in recent years. Top to bottom on both offense and defense, they have line combinations that contribute to the team’s playoff success.
The winner of eight consecutive playoff series, while being impeccable in elimination games, Vasilevskiy has the capability of putting a team on his back and taking them all the way. Between 2020’s Cup Final series, and Tampa’s run to repeat as champs last year, he has registered five straight shutouts in series-clinching games. Over the past two springs combined, he registered an otherworldly 1.90 goals-against average. Of goaltenders with at least 80 postseason starts, Vasilevskiy’s .924 career save percentage is the fourth-best all-time.
To help, the Lightning are playing well on defense this year, ranking eighth in the NHL, the same ranking they also have for their penalty kill unit. It is comforting for a goaltender to know that players like Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak are filling lanes and blocking shots in front of you. This solid defense has helped Vasilevsky compile 49 postseason wins in 81 games. To a man, every player on the Lightning roster will tell you that when Vasilevskiy is in the net, they are going to have a chance to win every night.
The Lightning Have Been There Before
Playoff experience cannot be taught. The Lightning have seen most of the highs and lows of the Stanley Cup playoff experience. From the disappointment of the 2015 Stanley Cup loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, to winning the Stanley Cup the last two seasons, the team has almost seen it all. Nothing about playoff hockey should surprise it. Playoff experience doesn’t guarantee success in the postseason, but it makes a tremendous impact in moments of adversity.
Worried about some of the newer members of the Lightning who lack playoff experience, like Paul? Former champions generally set a great example for the younger players to follow, and they also serve as a calming presence for the inexperienced players who would normally panic in high-pressure situations late in playoff games. Previous playoff experience helps teams overcome adversity, especially through the gauntlet of playoff games it takes to win the Cup. New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz may have summed it up best: “Experience is not necessary until you run into adversity. That’s where experience comes in. From veteran players, how they handle the locker room, the emotions, their teammates, that’s when it’s essential.” Tampa Bay’s playoff experience will be a big help during the playoffs.
Related: 3 Lightning Players Who Need to Produce in the 2022 Playoffs
Making three consecutive deep runs in the NHL postseason is one of the most grueling tasks in all of sports. The Lightning does have all of the ingredients to do just that and make history.