Tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning embarks on their quest to hold Lord Stanley’s Cup high above their heads. Captain Steven Stamkos and the rest of the Lightning will host Brian Gionta and the Montreal Canadiens at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for Game 1 of the First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Now, during the regular season, the Lightning took the season series 3-1. However, this does not mean that this is going to be an easy series for the Bolts. As they learned quickly in their last encounter with the Canadiens, the Lightning learned that the Habs are going to play a rough and tumble game.
On the bright side, if the Lightning continue to play the way that they have in the last four games, then I do not foresee a problem in the Bolts’ future.
Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback will be the starting goaltender in Game 1. Since he took the ice for netminder Ben Bishop in the early moments of the Lightning’s encounter against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 8th, Lindback has posted two shutouts; one against the Maple Leafs and the other against the Washington Capitals, which happened to be the game that sealed home ice advantage for the Bolts.
This season’s numbers seriously do not reflect the way that Lindback has performed in his last three games. So far this season, he has only suited up for 23 games. In that time, he went 8-12-2-1 with a GAA of 2.90 and a Save Percentage of .891.
Backing him up in Bishop’s downtime has been Lightning prospect Kristers Gudlevskis. After putting on a spectacular show at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Gudlevskis showed that his talent was far more than a flash in the pan.
The netminder has only played one game at the NHL level thus far; however, he was able to hold the Columbus Blue Jackets to only two goals, earning himself a GAA of 2.00 and a Save Percentage of .947.
Now, on the offensive side of the ice, it is the rookie left wing Ondrej Palat who leads the team in points. Palat has 23 goals and 36 assists for a total of 59 points to accompany his phenomenal plus-32 rating. For the record, his plus-32 rating puts him ahead of all the NHL rookies in plus/minus.
Right now, there is a two way tie for the lead in goals. That honor goes to Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and center Valtteri Filppula. Both centers have 25 goals in the regular season; Filppula has 33 assists for a total of 58 points with a plus-5 rating, while Stamkos has 15 assists for a total of 40 points with a plus-9 rating.
When it comes to assists this season, it has really been all about Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
Hedman has been a terrific two way player this season. He has been just as valuable defensively as he has been on the scoreboard.
In the regular season, he posted 13 goals and 42 assists for a total of 55 points and a plus-5 rating.
On the other side of the ice, it is Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty that the Lightning will need to keep their eyes on. He currently leads the Habs in both goals and overall points. He notched 39 goals and 21 assists in the regular season for a total of 60 points and a plus-8 rating.
Leading the way on the Habs in assists has been defenseman P.K. Subban. Subban has posted 10 goals and 43 assists for a total of 53 points in the regular season.
As I said before, this is going to be an intense series. Both of these teams are very capable of finding their way on the scoreboard. This may very well come down to a battle of the goaltenders.
However, as most of you know, the team has been faced with their fair share of opposition this season. There have been a number of injuries to key players this season, none so prevalent as the injuries to Stamkos and Bishop. On both occasions, the Bolts proved that they could indeed hold their own without two of their key players in the lineup. Now that we have at least one of those players back in the lineup, with the other to hopefully follow soon, I can see the Lightning getting the job done in this series.
What do you think is going to be the key to the Lightning’s success in the first game of the post season? Who do you think the Lightning are going to need to keep their eyes on? Who do you think is really going to stand out for the Bolts in this encounter? Let us know what you think in the comments below.