Article by: Bobby Bader Jr.
With a little over three weeks left in the National Hockey League regular season, the race for the playoffs is in full effect. Three teams have claimed their spot in the race for Lord Stanley, but one team has stood out from the rest as a favorite to win it all. The Tampa Bay Lightning have absolutely dominated the league since the beginning of the season. Currently posting an overall record of 57-13-4 (118 points), the Lightning are not showing any signs of slowing down.
For the first time in franchise history, the team captured the Presidents’ Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL’s top regular season team. With earning this honor, Tampa Bay is guaranteed to finish with more points than any other team in the league. This award comes with 8 games remaining in the regular season. Tampa needed only 73 games to clinch the league's best record, in doing so they were the second-fastest clinch in league history (The 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings clinched the trophy in 71 games.) With the amount of success from the team during the regular season, there has been a lot of questions about how this success will transfer over into the playoffs.
The Lightning has been in the league for 25 seasons at this point, and of those 25 seasons, they have only been in the playoffs 10 times. Tampa won the Stanley Cup in 2004, but have not had much success since. Over the past seven seasons, since 2012, they have missed the playoffs three times (2012, 2013, 2017), lost in the first round once (2014), lost the conference final twice (2016 and 2018), and lost in the Stanley Cup Final once (2015). Having not had so much success over the past couple seasons, all eyes will be on the Lightning as they enter the playoffs as the best team this year.
The success of the team comes on the shoulders of a strong offensive presence from Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov and absolutely stellar goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy. Leading NHL point producer, Nikita Kucherov, has been playing out of his mind this season. Through 74 games played this season, Kuckerov has posted 119 points (37 G and 82 A). Stamkos and Point are also lighting up the league as they both have scored 38 goals apiece at this point in the season.
Vasilevskiy leads the league for wins as a goaltender with 36 games won in 48 games played and has also posted a 2.29 GGA and 0.930 SV%. Vasilevskiy has been arguably the best goaltender across the board this season. Do not be surprised if he ends up winning the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of this season. His consistent play has to continue in order to lead the Lightning to the success in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay is going to look towards their talented array of players to produce points and win games in the playoffs. The team has to be all in at this point and remain confident in their ability to win games in order to be successful moving forward. They are the best team in the league for a reason, but anything can happen once the playoffs begin. It all comes down to which team wants it more and who is willing to put it all on the line. All eyes will be on the President’s Trophy winners, which adds more pressure to be successful come playoff time.
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