Why the Tampa Bay Lightning can win the Stanley Cup
When the Tampa Bay Lightning swung a major trade with the New York Rangers before this year’s deadline, defenseman Ryan McDonagh was considered the key acquisition.
But Lightning coaches were as happy to land winger J.T. Miller in the deal.
Miller proved his value Sunday when he delivered the go-ahead goal in the second period to spark the Lightning to a 3-1 win against the Boston Bruins to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference final.
The Lightning, who needed five games to topple the Bruins in the best-of-seven series, now play the winner of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals series. Washington leads 3-2, with Game 6 Monday in Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point tied the game 1-1 on Sunday with a backhand goal midway through the second period. Anton Stralman added an empty-netter.
Here are five reasons why the Lightning can win it all:
Checkmarks in key boxes: The Lightning’s goal-scoring ability was tops in the NHL in 2017-18. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy finalist. Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman leads a skilled group of defenders. Tampa Bay’s coaching is high-caliber. This is an experienced group.
Improved defensive team: The Lightning ranked 19th in goals-against average in the regular season, but their numbers are better in the postseason. Their goals-against average is down from 2.86 to 2.50. The addition of full-service defender McDonagh has helped tighten up the defensive coverage. He can play a shutdown role with Dan Girardi and still contribute to the team’s formidable transition game.
Coach knows his team: Jon Cooper is in his sixth season as Tampa Bay’s coach and he knows how to get the most out of his skilled team. Under Cooper’s supervision, Nikita Kucherov has continued to improve every season, Brayden Point has developed and Yanni Gourde was one of the league’s top rookies this season. Cooper has won 57.1% of all of his NHL playoff games.
It’s Steve’s time: Steven Stamkos is only 28, but you already see his name among the best NHL players without a Stanley Cup. He’s a difference-maker on the ice and a quality captain. Feels like he now has learned all he needs to know to lead this team to a championship.
Wunderkind goalie: At 23, Vasilevskiy has started 17 playoff games and won 12. He came up big in the third period with the Bruins pressing, stopping all 14 shots he faced. He was dominant in the first half of the regular season, looked fatigued in the second half, but has been sharp in the playoffs. He has a 2.20 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in the postseason. When he is at his best, he is as skilled as any goalie in the league.