2011 NHL Stanley Cup: 5 Reasons The Tampa Bay Lightning Can Win it All
Since winning the Stanley Cup in the 2003-04 postseason, it's been nearly four years since the Tampa Bay Lightning have even made the NHL playoffs.
That stands to change this season.
When new Owner Jeff Vinik took control of the Bolts, he quickly earned fans' confidence by hiring former Detroit Red Wing and Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman as the club's new general manager.
Yzerman then hired Head Coach Guy Boucher, who led the Hamilton Bulldogs to a 52-17-3 record in the American Hockey League.
With Boucher at the helm, the team is playing some of its best hockey in years, sitting in first in the Southeast Division and second place in the Eastern Conference at the season's halfway point.
Looking ahead to the second half of the season, here are five reasons why Tampa Bay will make another run at the Stanley Cup.
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Tampa Bay has not made the playoffs, or had much success elsewhere for that matter, since 2007.
For a team that has been a whirlwind disaster the last few years, the Bolts desperately needed a fresh start. They got one in new ownership and management.
Yzerman said upon his hiring, "There is no easy fix. I don't sit up here with the notion that there is a magic wand I can wave and make changes and we're a Stanley Cup contender. I plan on making the Lightning better for the upcoming season, but the long-term goal is to make this team a perennial contender."
If there is such a thing as an easy fix, with Boucher behind the bench and a role-filled team atop the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, Tampa Bay has certainly found it.
Best Top-Six Forwards In The League
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Steven Stamkos and former league MVP Martin St. Louis have combined for 97 points this season, more than any other duo in the NHL.
Throw Ryan Malone, Steve Downie, Vincent Lecavalier and a now-healthy Simon Gagne into the lineup, and you have the most dangerous top-six forwards in the league.
There's an equal mix of playmaking, scoring, size and grit in Tampa Bay. That's a recipe most other teams cannot duplicate.
Outstanding Special Teams
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Special teams have been a strong point of emphasis for Boucher from the beginning.
Dominic Moore is arguably the best offseason signing in the league with his lead-by-example style. Nate Thompson and Adam Hall have been surprising go-to guys for the Lightning defensively and have led the way on the penalty kill for the Lightning this season, with the sixth best penalty-kill in the league at 84.9 percent.
On the flip side, the power play has been a league-best most of the season.
With a recent surge by the Blackhawks, Tampa Bay ranks second in power play with a 23.9 percent conversion rate. With these top-six forwards and a smart-shooting Brett Clark on the point, power play has been nearly unstoppable.
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With a master's degree in sports psychology, Boucher has pushed the importance of communication since day one.
This approach has been well-received by his team.
In an interview with CBCSports.ca earlier this season, Lightning Goalie Dan Ellis said, “He’s [Boucher] definitely the best coach I’ve ever had, in terms of his organization and understanding of the game. He understands us as people.”
Boucher's innovative thinking extends beyond the locker room to the ice.
His unique 1-3-1 forecheck that brought success in Hamilton breaks away from the standard 1-2-2 and 2-2-1 alignments most coaches use to "trap" the opposition in the neutral zone.
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Good teams know if you're going to compete, you have to succeed on the road in a hostile environment, especially at playoff time.
Boucher has the team playing well not only at home, but also on the road.
The Bolts faced one of the NHL's toughest first-half schedules, playing 22 of their first 36 on the road. During that span, they posted an 11-8-3 record, walking away with points in 14 out of 22 games.