Tampa Bay Lightning: Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Posted by Aaron . on May 9, 2016 in

The Tampa Bay Lightning have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive year, once again thanks to the strong play of Victor Hedman and goaltender Ben Bishop. Hedman tallied two goals and Bishop made 28 saves as the Lightning spanked the Islanders, 4-0, to win Game 5. The Lightning won four straight games in this series after dropping Game 1 at home, and now they await the winner of the Washington-Pittsburgh semifinal, which moves to Game 6 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night with the Penguins up 3-2. Find out more about the latest NHL spread here.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Eastern Conference Finals Preview

 

 

In either case, the Lightning are likely to be underdogs in the conference finals. The Washington Capitals finished atop the entire NHL in points this season, and the Penguins have looked like NASCAR on ice, skating circles around the opposition in eliminating the New York Rangers in five games and then almost doing the same to the Capitals.

So do the Lightning have a shot at all in these conference finals? Absolutely, and here are three reasons why.

The underdog rules in the NHL.

It’s actually pretty rare for teams to steamroll underdogs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Just this year, we saw two 8-seeds (Minnesota and Philadelphia) push the 1-seeds (Dallas and Washington, respectively) in difficult six-game series. The two 7-seeds (Nashville and the New York Islanders) eliminated the 2-seeds (Anaheim and Florida, respectively). Momentum and confidence can carry teams a lot farther in the NHL than they usually can in the other major sports leagues, where talent is usually a factor that ends up defeating confidence more easily. The Lightning rode that all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and appear to have the mental strength to get there again.

Victor Hedman

Hedman was a ferocious playmaker last year and is doing the same thing again this year. He only had four goals in the Islander series, but his pair in the elimination game were crucial. The whole series, though, he caused chaos whenever he was on the ice. If Steven Stamkos can return from injury to play in the conference finals, the Caps or Penguins could be in real trouble.

Ben Bishop

He’s not getting the same sort of ink as Carey Price has in the past, or as Brian Elliott is during this postseason, but he has been immense for the Lightning in the playoffs. He has posted shutouts in four of the last five wins that clinched series for the Lightning, and in that fifth game, he allowed one goal. Some of that is a function of a strong defense, but you can’t win a Stanley Cup without a clutch netminder. Across the ice from him in the New York series was Thomas Greiss, who until Game 5 was matching Bishop in effort. Two of the games went to overtime, and if Tavares had had a goal in Game 4 instead of ringing the post, the series might have gone differently. Bishop stood tall when it mattered and when the puck came at him, and the Lightning are moving on again. There are a lot of teams right now wishing they had the services of a backstop like Bishop.