The Tampa Bay Lightning have been on a nice run lately, but can they close the deal and win the Stanley Cup this year?
With a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 30, the Tampa Bay Lightning dropped to 12-9-3 on the season and looked nothing like the team that won 62 regular season games and the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s highest point total last year (128). A playoff hangover after a disappointing first round exit last year? In any case, head coach Jon Cooper’s job security was easily called into question.
The Lightning were better in December, with a 9-4-1 record. A 10-game winning streak stretched into January, and while three losses in their last five games isn’t ideal, they now sit second by themselves in the Atlantic Division entering Tuesday.
The talent level had not dropped off on Tampa Bay, but since Dec.1 (entering Monday) they’ve played to their potential.
Courtesy of Pro Hockey Talk, here’s where the Lightning rank in some key metrics since the start of December:
- Record: 17-6-1, .729 points percentage (2nd in NHL)
- 5-on-5 goal differential: plus-23 (1st in NHL)
- Total goal differential: plus-28 (1st in NHL)
- Goals per game: 3.55 (3rd in NHL)
- Goals against per game: 2.39 (2nd in NHL)
- Power play percentage: 24.3 (7th in NHL)
- Penalty kill percentage: 88.9 (1st in NHL)
- Shot attempt share (5-on-5): 55.9 percent (1st in NHL)
- Scoring chance share (5-on-5): 60.6 percent (1st in NHL)
- High-danger scoring chance share (5-on-5): 57.6 percent (1st in NHL)
- Expected goals share (5-on-5): 58.2 percent (1st in NHL)
The ice is tilting dramatically in Tampa Bay’s favor these days, to say the least. They’re dominating scoring chances and cashing them in, while killing penalties at a nearly 89 percent clip before Monday night’s overtime loss to the Dallas Stars.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has started 19 of the team’s 25 games since Dec. 1 and returned to his previous form, with a .927 save percentage and a 2.19 goals against average over that span. Before that, through Nov. 30, his save percentage was just over .900 with a GAA pushing toward 3.00. Over his last 16 starts he’s 13-1-2 with a .930 save percentage, and in January (eight games) Vasilevskiy is 7-0-1 with a 1.36 GAA, a .955 save percentage and two shutouts.
The Lightning are still seven points back of the Boston Bruins for the lead in the Atlantic, and they are one of eight teams in the Eastern Conference with between 59 and 67 points entering Tuesday’s action. So a playoff spot is not necessarily guaranteed, and it will be a tight race down the stretch.
But Tampa Bay was untested last year down the stretch of the regular season, and they were swept by the No. 8 seed Columbus Blue Jackets. So having to battle for playoff positioning from here on out stands to benefit them.
Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the Lightning have the second-most regular season wins (283) and the fourth-most playoff wins (36) in the NHL. They have lost Game 7 of the Conference Finals twice in that span, with a six-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
Is this the year the Lightning get over the hump, close the deal (or whatever “taking the next step” phrase you prefer) and win a Stanley Cup? The way they’re playing over the last two months, and the idea they won’t be able to let down their guard and coast into the playoffs, points to there being a pretty good chance.
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