The Tampa Bay Lightning's season could be described as bold.
Anyone who predicted the Tampa Bay Lightning would be in the hunt for the Atlantic Division crown before the season began would have been throwing out a bold prediction. Midway through the season, that prediction isn't as outlandish as it seemed and with half a year left, it's time to re-evaluate and make some bold predictions for the end of the Bolts' season.
Before the season started, there were some bold predictions set out. Some of the predictions have been put to shame—like Ben Bishop winning 30 games this season. He has 22 wins in 32 starts.
Martin St. Louis has been his usual self. Victor Hedman and Matt Carle have upped their play. The young group of players have been outstanding. So, is anything really that bold to predict?
With the second half of the season among us, here are some bold predictions for the final months of the 2013-14 campaign.
This is the way Lightning fans prefer to remember their superstar center.
That's right, the league's best goal scorer will do exactly that when he returns to the ice—score goals. Steven Stamkos has been aggressively rehabbing his leg injury so that he can return to the ice for the Olympics. He appears to be on pace for that goal.
Stamkos had 14 goals in 17 games before going down with the injury. Following the Olympic break, the Bolts have 24 games. Asking Stamkos to score 26 goals in 24 games isn't that outlandish. However, consider the fact that he may not be 100 percent and may need more rest and recovery days down the stretch to be fresh for the playoffs.
A 40-goal season despite missing half the year? Not bad.
Ben Bishop has been huge for the Lightning in goal this year.
Ben Bishop has 22 wins in the first half of the season. On the other hand, the Buffalo Sabres have 12 wins and Edmonton Oilers have 14. Both teams dwell at the bottom of their respective conferences, while Bishop sits tied for second in the league in wins.
The Sabres and Oilers have underachieved in this first half of the season. The Sabres' goaltender Ryan Miller could be traded for a team that needs an upgrade in goal for the playoffs. Edmonton's young talent hasn't jelled like they wanted.
If Bishop gets hot, he could have more wins than two teams in the NHL combined. That's an impressive feat.
Martin St. Louis was left off of Canada's Olympic roster, a bittersweet moment for Lightning fans.
With the hockey world's eyes on the Olympic rosters released on Jan. 7, fans could have both cheered and jeered at the moves. The Lightning fans experienced every emotion possible—including confusion.
Team USA's announcement followed the Winter Classic and astonishingly left Ben Bishop out in the cold. Then, Team Sweden announced their roster—without Victor Hedman! Oh and Martin St. Louis was left off of Team Canada by his own general manager Steve Yzerman.
Meanwhile, Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas and Valtteri Filppula were part of a nice group of players that will represent their country in Sochi.
As we clear our eyes from that disappointment, let's look at the positives. The Bolts have a group of young players getting experience on the world stage. They also have three of their four biggest pieces to success able to rest for the final stretch.
This recharge in batteries could be huge for the Bolts to make a push toward the playoffs.
Ben Bishop has been next-level worthy for the Bolts. His efforts deserve to be recognized.
Ben Bishop has done everything anyone could ask of him—and he is still being overlooked.
By the numbers:
- 22-5-3 record
- 22 wins is tied for second in the league
- 1.86 goals-against average (fifth in the NHL)
- .935 save percentage (sixth in the NHL)
- 3 shutouts (tied for third in the NHL)
Bishop has been huge, and yet he was still left off the American Olympic team. If the Lightning return to the postseason for the first time since 2010-11, he deserves to win the award but will he?
Good hockey doesn't exist in warm climates, remember?
Not many outside of the Lightning community thought they would be as good as they have been.
The Lightning have been one of the more surprising teams in the NHL this season—if you aren't a Lightning fan. They were a good team on paper before the season, but few would have expected them to be at the top of the standings in January. Add the injuries to Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone and Sami Salo and the Bolts had even less of a chance to be at the top.
Still, Tampa Bay is 26-13-4 and two points behind Boston for the top spot in the division. The Lightning are 7-2-1 in the last 10 games and have upped their road record to 12-9-2.
With so much young talent and so many question marks, the Lightning were expected to be in the hunt for a wild-card spot but not a division championship. They have a 10-point lead on eighth-place Washington and are in prime position to make the postseason.
But, do the Bolts have what it takes to win the Atlantic? Lightning fans say yes, even if the rest of the NHL says no.