The regular season is over and there has not been a whole lot going well for the Tampa Bay Lightning as the playoffs start for the Lightning on Tuesday as they face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second straight season. While things have been exciting heading into the playoffs for the last three seasons, this season feels different for a lot of fans as the Lightning have had some big struggles since the trade deadline.
Since the trade deadline, the Lightning are 9-11-1, and even more concerning is that since February 1st the Lightning are 14-15-5. To compare to last season, the Lightning were 22-13-2 from February 1st to the end of the regular season and had a 12-7-2 record between the deadline and end of the season.
These numbers are very concerning, but like everyone has said for years now, never count the Lightning out. There’s some things that could go right for the team as they take on a Maple Leafs team with a goaltending issue. Matt Murray is injured, Ilya Samsonov gets injured easily, and their extras consist of Joseph Woll and a bunch of amateur players. Along with that, Mitch Marner has slowed down from his otherworldly play we saw halfway through the season, and Auston Matthews has had a slower season compared to usual for him.
What needs to go right for the Lightning though? Here are three things that could help lead the Lightning to a second round matchup against either the Boston Bruins or the Florida Panthers, and eventually another cup:
Andrei Vasilevskiy Needs To Play Like He Did in the 2021 Playoffs
Vasilevskiy is seen as the best goaltender in the world by the majority of hockey fans, and that sometimes seems like it’s not good enough for him. In the last three playoffs, he’s had amazing numbers that have never gone below .920% save and a 15.5 GSAx. In the 2021 playoffs however, Vasilevskiy was the best the league had ever seen him. With a .937% save, five shutouts, 1.90 GAA, and a 26.6 GSAx, Vasilevskiy has one of the best playoff performances anyone has ever seen.
The Lightning need to see Vasilevskiy come back to this form as he’d had pretty average numbers since the trade deadline, with a .909% save. While the defense plays a big role in how well Vasilevskiy can play on paper, he’ll need to step up his game more than he ever has to make up for the lackluster defense the Lightning have had this season.
Victor Hedman Needs To Step Up His Game
Hedman has had a poor season compared to almost every season of his career, finishing with 49 points and only 1.63 points per 60 minutes, which is quite low compared to other seasons. Along with this, he gives up the puck more than any other defenseman on the team with 79 giveaways, 48 being in the defensive zone. This is by far his worst numbers in the last five seasons, something the Lightning and Hedman need to make sure gets fixed by Tuesday.
While Mikhail Sergachev has had a big breakout season with 64 points and 10 goals, he can’t be the only elite defenseman on this team. While Hedman could be hurt in some way, he’ll need to find a way to not let that get in the way, something he had to do just two seasons ago.
Offense, Keep Up The Great Work
The offense for the Lightning this season has been nothing short of phenomenal, and while fans may not realize it because of recent low scoring games, this offense has been great with a. 2.64% goals for per 60 and 171 high danger shots. Kucherov leads the team in both assists and points, with 83 assists and 113 points. Brayden Point leads the team in goals with a career high 51, but has also had a career year in points with 95.
Outside of the star players, there are a couple players who’ve had some impressive seasons. The first one is the most obvious one, Brandon Hagel. From a disappointing beginning to his time in Tampa at the 2022 deadline to one of the best players on the team, Hagel has made a huge impact on the Lightning with a career high 30 goals and 64 points. Along with him, Alex Killorn is also having a silently impressive season, with a career high 27 goals and 64 points. If these two can keep up their career best play in these playoffs, the Lightning can get past the Maple Leafs and other teams with ease.