Biggest Takeways from Start of Tampa Bay Lightning's 1st-Round Playoff Matchup
After entering the postseason on a four-game winning streak and jumping the Canadiens in the process, the Bolts had the momentum and confidence to compete in the postseason. Injuries, tough luck and a consistent lack of execution have the Lightning searching for answers quickly. If they can't find them, they may face an early offseason.
With at least the four games of postseason play, fans can take some things from this series as the Lightning look to take the next step.
There are some teams in the NHL that can get away with not having four complete lines thanks to outstanding production on the top two lines.
On the other hand, there are teams that roll four-lines deep and have found themselves hoisting the Cup in recent years. Boston, Chicago and—in this series—Montreal have shown the importance of having four solid lines. Both Boston and Chicago have won Stanley Cups in the last few years.
Tampa Bay doesn’t have a solid four lines that put constant pressure on the opposition. As deep as the Bolts are at forward, they are undermanned in the bottom six (five if they dress seven defensemen).
The addition of forwards like Adam Erne and Jonathan Drouin in the next few years may change the team’s entire complexion, though.
The Tampa Bay Lightning look a lot like a team out West—the Colorado Avalanche—only one team is winning their playoff series. The Avalanche have a great mix of young talent and crafty veterans, but the Avs have found far more success.
Why? They have more weapons. It seems simple enough that the team with the most weapons wins games. With a game-changer like Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche are a team to be feared.
Montreal has four lines of consistent threats, which has translated to problems for the Lightning. Again, it’s all about weapons, including a big weapon in net named Carey Price.
Tampa Bay isn’t far off, though, which is very encouraging. It has just been a painful experience so far.
The Little Blue Paint Is a Big Deal
Anders Lindback’s outstanding end to the regular season has come to a halt in the postseason. It’s not entirely his fault, as the Bolts seem to be unable to get the puck out of the zone for minutes at a time.
Still, Lindback hasn’t done much to help his own cause.
Facing elimination, Tampa Bay desperately misses its No. 1 goaltender, Ben Bishop. Would Bishop have solved every problem? No, but a couple of extra saves in Games 1 and Game 3 could have led to different results.
Whether the Bolts get eliminated or Bishop returns to the ice, Lindback is probably playing his last game(s). According to CapGeek.com, he is a free agent after this year and the Lightning have goalies waiting for their shot.
Stability in the crease is crucial to that deep playoff run. Tampa Bay hasn’t had that this series.
The 5th Gear
Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks told the Los Angeles Times that the NHL playoffs require players to go to a “new level.” Is there anyone in the game—except for maybe New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur—more credible than Selanne?
Tampa Bay hasn’t shown that it can compete at that next level. The Bolts seem to be a half-step behind their passes and the Canadiens’ attack. They’re a half-second late on rebounds and a half-second early at the blue line (or not).
It has been a tough series for the Bolts. Few breaks have gone their way, but when you don’t rise to the next level in the playoffs, it’s tough to create your own luck.
The Lightning will need to use this experience to benefit the young group and attain the next-level mentality in the future.
Experience from the Top Down
The NHL playoffs are a unique experience and much of the Lightning are experiencing it for the first time. From the group of rookies to the coaching staff and the front office, many are seeing the NHL playoffs for the first time from their positions.
General manager Steve Yzerman has a ton of playoff experience, but none as a GM. The same goes for coach Jon Cooper and his group of young talented players.
Every game this organization gets to play in the postseason will be extremely influential to this team’s development. A four-game stint in the playoffs may not be what this team wanted this year, but it will have laid a solid foundation for years to come.
Teams like Detroit, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh have a tradition of playoff appearances. Each one helps to build the next year. Tampa Bay has started its new streak this season.
Fans should appreciate the team’s achievements this season, even if it ends short of the ultimate goal.