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Before tonight’s game five against the New York Islanders I wanted to take a minute to look at how the Tampa Bay Lightning have gotten to the point of going to their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. Before the playoffs started I wrote an article stating the Lightning couldn’t make a deep run without captain Steven Stamkos (Blood clot) and Anton Stralman (Fractured Fibula), but I couldn’t have been further from what is actually happening. We as writers sometimes like to make bold predictions and for me mine were based on the less than consistent play the team has had all season long. Sometimes we get it right and well sometimes we get it wrong. I knew heading into the playoffs the Bolts could without too much issue get past the first round however, it was the second round I felt would be their down fall. This team has completely proven me wrong with the way they have played in both the first and second rounds. In round one against the Detroit Red Wings sure at times things looked shaky, but the Lightning were able to eliminate the Red Wings in five games.
Most people expected the Florida Panthers who were Atlantic Division champs to be the Lightning’s possible second round opponent, but the Islanders made sure they had something to say about that. John Tavares and Thomas Greiss would propel their team into a second round match up against the Bolts. This would be the Islanders first time in the second round of the playoffs since 1993.
In the first round of the playoffs the Tyler Johnson led line of Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn would dominate the Red Wings on the score sheets while Ben Bishop dominated them between the pipes. By the times the series shifted to Detroit for game 3 the Lightning had a 2-1 series lead. In a few games if it weren’t for the stellar play of the Lightning net minder I don’t know if the Lightning could have gotten past the Red Wings in only five games.
One of the biggest x factors in the first two round though has been the greatly improved play of Jonathan Drouin. When he demanded a trade around Christmas time it was expected by the trade deadline the young former first round pick would no longer be with the team. Eventually Drouin went back the Lightning’s AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch before earning his way back to the NHL where he started the season. In nine games so far this postseason Drouin has tallied one goal and seven assists and is tied with Alex Killorn for the third most points so far in the playoffs. His offensive play was never something people questioned him on, but rather it was his defensive zone play that even head coach Jon Cooper questioned him on. Last season’s playoff run was without Drouin who was scratched most every night and when asked why Cooper was sitting his star prospect his response was simple “Drouin has to realize there are two nets on the ice”. Since his return to the Lighting while he hasn’t been one hundred percent perfect he has been greatly improved in the defensive zone.
Game one against the Islanders didn’t quite go the Lighting’s way as Ben Bishop gave up four goals on 13 shots before being pulled in favor of Andrei Vasilevskiy who saved the lone eight shots he faced. Game two the Lightning came out with a purpose and were not going to let the Islanders get a 2-0 series lead on them. Captain Playoffs Tyler Johnson would net two goals in the games while adding an assist as the Lightning won 4-1 at Amalie Arena before heading to Brooklyn for games three and four. The Islanders looked prime and ready to defeat the Lightning in both games in New York until likely and unlikely heroes would send the series back to Tampa.
So far in the first two rounds the Lightning have played at a level I never expected from them considering their up and down season full of inconsistencies, but they are on the verge of yet another run into the Eastern Conference Finals against either the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins. If they keep up the way they have played this round against the Islanders, we could see them heading to back to back Stanley Cup Finals.
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