3 Lightning Who Need to Step Up for the Rest of the Playoffs

One might think that after sweeping the Florida Panthers in Round 2, there are not many players on the Tampa Bay Lightning who have underperformed. However, after Wednesday night’s loss to the New York Rangers, there are three players who the Lightning need to elevate their play so the team can move on to the Stanley Cup Final.

This is not to say that these players have played poorly. Instead, a closer look at the playoffs so far has revealed that they have not played up to the level that they have in the past. As a team advances through the playoffs, they need as many players as they can to at least play to their potential.

Alex Killorn

Alex Killorn was fourth on the team in scoring during the regular season but has yet to score a goal in these playoffs. He also did not register a point in the recent series victory over the Panthers. It might be a stretch to ask for something similar to last year’s eight-goal, nine assist postseason total, but the Lightning could use just a little bit more from the veteran than what has been produced so far, which is four assists that came in the series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has also been held without a point in the last six games.

Alex Killorn (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

We know the effort is there. After all, Killorn is the guy last season who had a steel rod inserted in his leg to give his broken bone stability with the hopes he could return after getting injured in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2021. His point totals for this season came after surgery to repair that injury. This led to Killorn being nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the game. It is that perseverance that the Lightning will need if they want to continue their march toward a third straight Stanley Cup.

Brandon Hagel

With Brandon Hagel, we know the effort is there. He is among the many that have sacrificed their body to block shots in these playoffs. We also know that he is a bit banged up, being one of a couple of Lightning that have not practiced lately in hopes of helping his body heal, and that he has only one goal through two postseason rounds, which is not exactly what they had hoped for when they acquired him in a trade deadline deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. He has been getting good looks but has only managed the one goal so far.

Brandon Hagel Tampa Bay Lightning
Brandon Hagel, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

Part of this could be due to the injury. Hagel did manage to log 13:35 of ice time in their Game 1 loss but was clearly still dealing with a left leg injury he suffered blocking a shot in Game 2 of the second-round sweep of the Panthers. His inexperience with playoff hockey may be a factor as well, as he has not appeared in any type of playoff series since he was in juniors. He also still might be struggling a bit in gelling with his more playoff-experienced teammates, something he encountered after being traded to the Lightning.

“I’ve never been the type to make excuses, but getting traded was tough. I didn’t know a single person with the Lightning. I was trying to juggle fitting in with my new team and getting all my stuff moved from Chicago to Tampa. Processing everything in such a short amount of time was a bit of a challenge,” he said.

In this current series, the best contribution to the team might come in the form of helping the Lightning contain the scoring of some of the high-powered Rangers.

Victor Hedman and the Entire Lightning Defense

True, that is not one player, but in the case of the most urgent need, it will take the entire team. In their 6-2 loss to the Rangers, and even their two lopsided losses to the Maple Leafs, the defense played very poorly. There were too many assignment breakdowns as well as the inability to clear the puck from their own end at crucial times. Clogging up passing lanes would be a big help. You can’t block shots if you are not in a position to block them. If the team is able to clean this up and play defense, it will start with the energy that comes from a leader like Victor Hedman.

Victor Hedman Steven Stamkos Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning Defenceman Victor Hedman celebrates a goal with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The most telling part of the Lightning’s difficulties came when Filip Chytil scored on a one-timer in Game 1. On that play, Hedman and Erik Cernak were in front of the net, with Ross Colton to the side of the left goal post. Kaapo Kakko’s pass split the two defensemen, leaving Cernak helpless to defend Chytil’s shot. The forwards also need to help out as on the Frank Vatrano goal, some of them were a bit late coming back into the zone. As good as Andrei Vasilevskiy is, you cannot give a good team so many open chances to score, especially against one like the Rangers that have been on such a roll recently. Being slow and sloppy in the defensive zone will not cut it against this team.

Related: Lightning Get a Wake-Up Call in Game 1 Loss to the Rangers

The effort is there, so now it becomes a matter of execution. If the Lightning plan to continue their quest for a third straight Stanley Cup, everyone needs to step up, including some that have not performed up to expectations so far this postseason.

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