Emerging Storylines for Tampa Bay Lightning's 2014 Postseason/Offseason
The Tampa Bay Lightning are just four points away from securing a playoff spot for the first time since 2010-11, which opens the door for a few storylines to emerge as we prepare for the postseason and, a hopefully delayed offseason. The final two weeks of season has some big matchups and opportunities for the Lightning.
With 91 points and seven games left, the Bolts sit in third place in the Atlantic Division. For a team that finished 28th in the league last year, that’s a pretty impressive turnaround.
Credit can be given to any number of individual and team efforts throughout the 2013-14 campaign, but the most important parts of the Lightning’s season are still to come. Possibly more important, these next few weeks could go a long way in building a perennial playoff team.
With the regular season winding down and the postseason and offseason getting ready to gear up, here are the storylines to look for over the next few months.
Defense Wins Championships
"Defense wins championships"—it's a phrase that nearly every coach or athlete has heard in their athletic career. Defense gets a ton of credit for making deep postseason runs—deservedly so.
The Bolts haven’t fared well against the better defensive teams in the league. Boston—the league’s best defensive team—has won all four meetings against Tampa Bay this year. Rounding out the top five are Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Jose and the New York Rangers.
Against those five teams, the Bolts are a combined 4-8-1. Tampa Bay has given up three goals or more in seven of their last eight games. They have been fortunate to come away with points in the majority of them, but their defense will need to improve come playoff time.
Shouldering a Heavier Load
Without the high-level goaltending of Ben Bishop, the Lightning would not be in the position they are. Bishop has been stellar for the Bolts, posting a 36-12-7 record with a 2.18 goals-against average.
As bad as the Lightning defense can be, Bishop has saved games with timely saves and undoubtedly saved the season while Steven Stamkos was out of the lineup.
A hot goaltender can steal a series or two in the postseason. See: Boston with Tim Thomas in 2011, Los Angeles with Jonathan Quick in 2012 ,and looking a little further back to 2004 for the Bolts with Nikolai Khabibulin.
If Bishop takes another step up in the postseason, things could get awfully exciting in Tampa Bay.
Will He Stay or Wll He Go?
All things considered, the Lightning’s big acquisition at the trade deadline—Ryan Callahan—has fit in very well in Tampa Bay. He has nine points in 13 games with the Lightning. More importantly, the team has picked up points in 11 of 13 games since he joined the team.
Production hasn’t been an issue since he was shipped out of New York after asking for "too much money." That could be a problem for the Lightning though. This short stint in Tampa Bay could be enough to validate his monetary requests and would the Lightning be willing to pay up? Even if they did pay up, would Callahan want to stay?
He has been a great addition to the team for the stretch run. It will be interesting to see how things play out this offseason.
The Lightning have played 10 rookies this season including Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Radko Gudas. The regular season experience is good, but postseason experience will be even better.
The opportunity to get this core group of players Stanley Cup Playoff experience will do great things for the foundation of the Lightning. Much like the success at the American Hockey League level helped get this group to the NHL, the Stanley Cup experience could provide a solid base for these players to build their careers on.
Every pressure situation will be a great learning experience for this team. The deeper they go into the playoffs, the brighter the future could be.
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