Last season the Tampa Bay Lighting did the unthinkable and made a legitimate run for the Stanley Cup. Not once last season did the Lightning lose 3 games in a row until the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bolts finished last season as the top scoring team in the entire NHL. Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov emerged on the scene as two thirds of the ever popular Triplets line along with Ondrej Palat. Victor Hedman continued his rise as an elite defenseman while Ben Bishop continued his dominance in net but, this isn’t last season… Can the Lightning Make a Deep Run Without Stamkos or Stralman?
At times the Lightning have struggled to put together winning streaks while trying to stay consistent. The puzzling part of all of this is the Lightning returned nearly their entire roster from a season ago only replacing Brenden Morrow with Erik Condra. Some claim there is such thing as a Stanley Cup Finals hangover and I feel there is a little truth to it, however not for an entire season. And now with a return trip to the playoffs this season they will have to make a run without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman.
As I’ve said multiple times on The Scrum Sports Podcast I don’t feel this is a team who can get past the second round even with Stamkos and Stralman. They have been way too inconsistent all season long while struggling at times to score enough goals to bail out the tremendous play of Bishop. Kucherov continued his dominant play from a season ago while leading the team with 66 points. Stamkos finished his campaign early as he was diagnosed with a blood clot that required surgery and will keep him out 1-3 months. Before the surgery was required Stamkos had 64 points to end what could be his final season in Tampa Bay. Both Kucherov and Stamkos scored over 30 goals (30 for Kucherov and 36 for Stamkos). While losing team Captain Steven Stamkos is an absolute loss, losing Stralman I think is the bigger blow.
Stralman finished the season with 34 points a drop off from the 39 he had a season ago, but it’s not his offensive numbers that make me say he’s the bigger loss. Stralman is arguably a top two defenseman alongside Hedman and his leadership is invaluable. With the Lightning semi top heavy in their defense his loss causes the Lightning to use Matt Carle more who isn’t nearly the defenseman Stralman is. In my mind you can always replace potential scoring, but replacing a defenseman of Stralman’s caliber is nearly impossible. Sure the Bolts still have Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn, Nikita Nesterov is still very young and Matt Carle’s play is extremely spotty at times.
The way this team has played all season long causes deep concerns even if Stamkos and Stralman hadn’t been hurt. With the Lightning recently recalling Jonathan Drouin who walked away from the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch earlier this year I doubt even he will be enough to push this team. I can see the team getting past Detroit in the first round, maybe in six games. The second round though they’d have to play either the New York Rangers, New York Islanders or the Florida Panthers. The Lightning have struggled all season long against the Panthers so if matched up against their in state rival the odds are not in the Bolts favor. The Lightning split the season series with the Panthers 2-2 while going 1-2 against both the Islanders and Rangers. While the playoffs are a totally different beast this Lightning team is not consistent enough to make a long run.
Too many times they’ve lost to teams who don’t have the same skill level as the Lightning. They would need Tyler Johnson to regain his playoff form from a year ago. While the second half of the season Johnson really turned it on once he was one hundred percent healthy he isn’t the same play who tied franchise records a season ago. There are just too many injuries for this team to overcome and make a deep run. I can’t say for sure how healthy they were last season, but I can tell you they are limping into the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and that’s never a good thing. This is a team who could beat Detroit in the first round, but that’s where their story ends this season.
This off-season there will be a lot of questions, but I don’t know how many of those questions the Lightning will be able to answer due to the salary cap. Steven Stamkos could have played his last game in a Lightning sweater, but we shall see in a few short months what happens.
Either way the optimism fans had for this teams run last season there’s no fan who can say confidently this team is strong enough for the long run that’s needed to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup…
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