The Biggest X-Factors in the Remainder of Tampa Bay Lightning's Regular Season
With five games left in the regular season and a playoff spot already clinched, the Tampa Bay Lightning look to head into the postseason on a high note. The Bolts’ recent streak has been bolstered by some X-factors that will be important for a deep run.
Tampa Bay is 6-2-2 in the last 10 as part of the red-hot Atlantic Division. Following a poor performance against Calgary on April 3, the Lightning need to refocus with games against Dallas, Toronto and Philadelphia—teams all fighting for the postseason.
As the Bolts prepare for a playoff run, they will need to keep an eye on these big X-factors.
The Bolts have two players that should be finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy—Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. These two rookies helped the Lightning not only survive the absence of Steven Stamkos, but thrive.
Without these two, the Lightning would not be in position to fight for home ice in the first round. Palat is second among rookies in scoring with 54 points. Johnson comes in third at 48.
But these two have provided more than scoring. Johnson has been one of the team’s best penalty killers. Palat seems to be on the ice for the majority of the Lightning’s goals. He leads all rookies with a plus-28 rating.
The performance of this Calder Trophy tandem will be a big X-factor for the Bolts over the next few weeks.
The Lightning’s power play has improved over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps coincidentally, they are 6-2-2 in the last 10. Steven Stamkos adds that dangerous one-timer to the power play, which is now tied for 13th in the league.
The Bolts will need their special teams to continue to perform, including the dynamic and dangerous penalty kill. Tampa Bay has 10 short-handed goals—tied for second in the league.
Improving on the 80.2 percent kill rate would help in the postseason, but avoiding penalties would be a better solution. The Lightning have taken 277 minor penalties this year—3.59 per game.
Can the Bolts continue on their upward special teams trend?
Tampa Bay is 22-9-6 at home this year. They are ninth in the league in that category, which makes the last few games of this season extremely important. The Lightning have four straight home games before heading to Washington to close out the year.
Riding on those games is home ice in the first round. The Bolts are currently tied at 93 points with Montreal—the most likely playoff opponent. Tampa Bay is 20-17-3 on the road, but hold a 3-1 season-series edge over the Canadiens.
Playing in front of the home fans will be a big bonus for the Lightning. If the Bolts take a No. 2 seed into the playoffs, the home-ice advantage will be something to watch.
Big Man on Campus
Goaltending has a drastic impact on a season. For examples, look to Nashville and the loss of Pekka Rinne this season or Toronto with the injury woes of Jonathan Bernier. Seasons can be won or lost in the crease.
Fortunately for the Bolts, Ben Bishop has won this season for them. He is tied for third in the league with 37 wins and could easily be the Bolts’ most valuable player. Without Bishop, no one knows where this team would be.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, they don’t have the luxury of resting Bishop down the stretch. He has already played a career high for games in a season (61) and could easily see that number reach 65 before the playoffs. That’s a lot of wear and tear on a body.
Bishop’s performance over the few weeks will be a huge X-factor for the Lightning. He could lead them deep into the postseason or come up short in the first round.