Lightning a Team That's Hard to Deny
When team captain Steven Stamkos and veteran defenseman Anton Stralman were injured and out of the lineup a month ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning's chances of making a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference finals seemed dim. But now the Lightning are there … and waiting, healing and preparing.
Report: Tampa Bay Lightning 1st team to advance to the 2nd Round of the NHL Playoffs. pic.twitter.com/s1BrAVdEGn— The Hockey Press® (@TheHockeyPress) May 9, 2016
Players Step Up
Stamkos has been sidelined since having surgery to remove a blood clot near his collarbone on April 4. Stralman fractured his left leg on March 25. It was clear when the playoffs began that someone had to step up. They did.
Probably the most important to fill the void was defenseman Victor Hedman. For the postseason, he has four goals and five assists for nine points and is a +4 in plus-minus ratio. More than that, Hedman has proven he can put the clamps on an opponent's offensive leader. His chief duty in the second round was to shut down New York Islanders' top scorer John Tavares. After Game 1 in the series, Hedman and the Lightning held Tavares without a point for the remainder of the series. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Ben Bishop, who posted his fifth career postseason shutout on 28 saves in the Bolts' 4-0 clincher over the Islanders, enters the conference finals with a 1.89 goals against average and .938 save percentage in the playoffs.
On the offensive side, Tyler Johnson (13 points) and Nikita Kucherov (nine goals) have picked up for the absence of Stamkos. And Jonathan Drouin has come from out of nowhere to put up nine points in the postseason.
Now the Bolts, who clinched the series with the Islanders on Sunday, will have some extra days to rest before facing the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals. Whether or not they have Stamkos and/or Stralman back, the Lightning will be a force. With three teams left in the race, the Lightning are 2-1 to win the East. That's well worth a bet. The number may change when the opponent is decided, or when an announcement on the Lightning stars is made. So if you like Tampa Bay, now may be the best time to take them.
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