Source: SCOTT AUDETTE/NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES
The Tampa Bay Lightning are having one of the best seasons in NHL history. Monday’s victory against the last-place Ottawa Senators put Tampa into an exclusive club. The Lightning joined the ‘76-77 Montreal Canadiens and the ‘95-96 Detroit Red Wings as the only teams to notch the 60 win plateau. Tampa has been collecting wins in bunches this season, and as a result, have collected their first ever Presidents trophy in franchise history. Second place Boston Bruins are 19 points back for first place; which is something you rarely see in sports.
Last season, Tampa Bay was one game away from the finals, dropping the last two games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions the Washington Capitals. A few years back the team advanced to their second-ever Stanley Cup final and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite being a top tier team under coach Jon Cooper the Lightning haven’t been able to capture another Stanley Cup. That being said this season Tampa has been steamrolling teams. Tampa has 36 wins beating teams with by at least 2 goals or more this season, pretty impressive.
Nikita Kucherov has also been having a historical season. As he became the first player since Sidney Crosby to hit 120 points in a season. A few seasons back Jamie Benn won the Art Ross trophy with only 87 points. Kucherov sits at 125 points with three games remaining and could possibly hit 130 points, a feat no player has hit since the post-2004-05 lockout. The last player who has recorded over 130 points in a season, is the one and only Mario Lemieux. The Russian monster is having the most one of the best seasons by a Russian ever. He needs three points to pass Alexander Mogilny for the highest scoring season by any Russian born player. Also, teammates Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos have eclipsed 40 goals each, joining the Oilers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and the Blackhawks duo of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat as the only duos to score more than 40 goals this season. Oh, and Tampa is essentially averaging about 4 goals a game. Again, pretty impressive.
While their offense has gotten the league talking, defensively the Lightning has been strong as well. Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh are one of the best defensive pairings in the league with Andrei Vasilevskiy having a tremendous season in net. Speaking of the netminder, he has been a stone wall notching 6 shutouts which ranks third, and has a save percentage of .925 in 52 starts this season. His G.A.A is in the top ten and second among starters. His fantastic play will make Tampa even more difficult to beat in a seven-game series.
As the playoffs are approaching, hockey can be unpredictable but who can defeat this Lightning team? Boston has beaten Tampa once in 3 games this season. Their only win against the Lightning snapped their 10 game winning streak. In their last meeting Boston almost beat the Lightning for a second time but lost 5-4. Boston and Tampa have one more meeting this Saturday in Bean town, and while Tampa did away with Boston last year in the playoffs, the Bruins look to be the team that might give Tampa the most trouble. Since the All-Star break, the Bruins have only lost 6 games in regulation and piled up 19 straight games with at least a point.
Washington is another team to watch out for. Tampa beat Washington twice in 3 meetings this season, but remember, Washington ousted the Lighting last year on their way to a cup. Also, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be a tough out. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, need I say more? And just like the Caps, the Penguins also eliminated Tampa on their cup run a few years back, and while Tampa holds bragging rights to this seasons season series, Crosby and the gang could give them headaches.
In the West, there really is only one team on par with the Lighting and that have the best chance at beating the NHL's best team and that’s the Calgary Flames. Offensively, the Flames can match the Lightning. The Flames are second behind the Lightning in team scoring and goals per game. Calgary also has 5 players with more than seventy points and the same amount of players putting up more than 20 goals. Johnny Hockey and Sean Monahan are one the best duos in the NHL, and the Flames secondary scoring could produce some problems as well. Tampa Bay swept the season series against the Flames going 2-0 and putting up eleven goals in the process. Needless to say, but the Flames had issues against Tampa this season. However, this is a matchup Flames fans would love to see avenged, seeing the last time these two met in the playoffs they saw a heartbreaking Stanley Cup Game 7.
Tampa has looked like the clear favourites to capture Lord Stanley this season. It’s hard to imagine Tampa losing in a series with how deep the team is. They have goaltending, offense, defense, and special teams. While they're having a season for the ages and players having milestone seasons, it’s not written in stone. The ‘95-96 Detroit Red Wings got humbled against Colorado in the Conference Finals, losing the series 4 to 2. However, the Lightning could cap off one the best seasons ever, and forever cement themselves as champions with 16 wins this postseason.