The NHL season is grueling. With 82 games — many of them back-to-back — all that really matters in the end is who advances to the playoffs.
It’s been well discussed that the Tampa Bay Lightning should face the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2022-23 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. If they can make it out of the first series (and that’s a big if), their competition doesn’t get any easier. They will need to rely on what has worked for them in the past and avoid any mishaps.
The last two games they’ve played show why the Lightning have won two Cups under coach Jon Cooper. We’ll examine four key areas that the Lightning need to win the team’s fourth championship.
Keeping Players Healthy
In Game 7 of last season’s (2021-22) opening round of the NHL Playoffs against the Maple Leafs, Brayden Point suffered an injury that kept him out of the lineup for the remainder of the postseason (although he tried to play in two games after his injury). His contribution to the Lightning playoff success cannot be underestimated. In just nine postseason games last season, he scored five points. He is producing more than a point per game during his postseason career, 78 points in 76 games.
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In addition to Point’s injury, the Lightning players endured several serious injuries to players throughout their run to the Cup Final. In fact, the team’s general manager (GM) Julien BriseBois reported on the long list of injuries, including Anthony Cirelli’s dislocated shoulder, Ryan McDonagh’s mangled finger, and Brandon Hagel’s fractured foot. Five other players suffered through various sprains and leg injuries.
Of course, playing through pain is normal in the NHL, especially during the postseason. BriseBois conceded that the Colorado Avalanche, who defeated the Lightning to win the Cup, probably had a similar list of injuries. They had already lost defenseman Samuel Girard in Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues in the second round.
Scoring on the Power Play
The players on the Lightning’s top power-play unit are among the league’s best. Nikita Kucherov, Point, Victor Hedman and team captain Steven Stamkos evoke fear in their penalty-killing foes. They have been in the top five for power-play goals in the NHL this season. They currently are scoring at 25.1 percent, ranking them fifth in the league.
Related: Tampa Bay Lightning Midseason Grades
For the past six seasons, the Stanley Cup champions have all ranked within the top 10 on the power play during the regular season, including the Lightning (ninth in 2021 and fifth in 2020). With their lethal, speedy power-play unit, securing the puck off the faceoff is crucial in producing scoring chances.
At the beginning of the season, the Lightning’s faceoff percentage was among the worst in the NHL. However, they turned it around and are now averaging 51.6 percent faceoff wins. They have five players who are above 50 percent winning percentage, with Ross Colton at 57.0 percent. Although only playing 17 games with his new team, Tanner Jeannot is showing promise, ranking second on the team at 55.6 percent.
Preventing Power-Play and Short-Handed Goals
So far this season, the Lightning have allowed 11 shorthanded goals, tied for third in the NHL. Only the Vancouver Canucks (13) and the Detroit Red Wings (12) have more. However, since the return of Cirelli, the team leads playoff-bound Colorado and the Los Angeles Kings with seven short-handed scores.
With the high-powered offenses that the Lightning will face in the postseason, their defense will need to be playing their best hockey, especially on the penalty kill. Currently they are killing nearly 80 percent of their opponents’ power plays. In the past three games, the have allowed only one goal on 12 power-play opportunities.
Winning Home Games
Amalie Arena has been a tough place for teams to come away with two points as the Lightning currently hold a 26-7-5 home record, which is second best in the league behind the Boston Bruins who have 29 wins. The Bolts went undefeated at home during the month of January, when they won 12 consecutive home games from Dec. 8, 2022 through Jan. 28—finally losing to the San Jose Sharks in their first game of February. However, they bounced back from that loss winning their next two home games. Since then, their home record has suffered, going 4-6.
Winning home games is vital to securing a playoff berth, but winning impressively goes a long way for satisfying the fans. The Lightning have scored 151 goals at home and only given up 103. With a man advantage at home, they are scoring slightly above 30 percent and the team’s penalty kill is holding the opponent to only 18 percent on the power play.
If the Lightning can play like they have during the past two games, they will be unbeatable. They defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-0, on the road on Tuesday, March 28, then allowed only one goal to the Washington Capitals at Amalie Arena two days later.
They are managing ice time for some of the veteran players, such as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Pat Maroon and Zach Bogosian, so that these players are healthy for the playoffs and their penalty kill, especially at home, is dominating.
The Lightning’s road to the Cup Final may very well take a similar path as it did last year. If so, the players know that they need to shore up their defense and penalty-kill units, score on the man advantage, keep their players as healthy as possible, and win at home. If they can do these things, they have an excellent chance of winning their fourth Stanley Cup for the city of Tampa.