Finally, the Lightning team we have waited to see all year has finally arrived. The Lightning are on a 12-2-3 roll, that has them tied for the last wildcard position in the Eastern conference with the NY Islanders.
Many of you thought the Lightning were dead and gone that first week in February when they were dead last in the Eastern conference with 50 points. What a difference 6 weeks can make.
Starting with the 4-1 win over Minnesota last Thursday, these last last 4 Lightning wins have been the most impressive of the season. Even more remarkable is that the Lightning are doing this without Stamkos who is skating but is not able to practice with the team yet. Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette, and Valdislav Namenstikov are still out with injuries.
This is the Lightning team we have longed to see all season but have seen it for maybe 1-2 periods at a time. Give Jon Cooper and the team credit they have played outstanding and deserve to be in the spot they are in now battling for a playoff spot.
Outside of the play of Vasilevskiy who has been sensational in goal 6-0-1 since the Bishop trade, rookie Brayden Point has grown up a lot these last few month and he has been centering the no. 1 line with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Point had 2 goals in the win against the New York Rangers Monday night, and numerous chances against Ottawa last night but could’nt cash in.
Let’s not forget Nikita Kucherov. With 31 goals on the year, Kucherov is on pace for a 40 goal season and is definitely the team MVP this season. Kucherov has the gift to make the right pass at the right time, or to get that much needed goal.
Victor Hedman is having his best season as a pro. Hedman had the winning OT goal in Ottawa last night. Hedman now has 14 goals and 45 assists, and is second on the team in scoring with 59 points. He should get consideration for the Norris Trophy as the best defensemen in the NHL. He is third in the NHL in scoring for defensemen.
The biggest difference however has been the Steven Stamkos factor. Stamkos has been traveling with the team and practicing with the team and his leadership has been just what the doctor ordered to get this Lightning team back on track.
There are only 13 games left in the season and there is no guarantee Stamkos will return from that injury this season as he has just hit the 4 month recovery mark His leadership was sorely missed after he went down with the injury and now that he is back traveling and being around the team, the Lightning have been outstanding.
A lot of things are going right for the guys in blue and white and that will have to continue as the Lightning make that playoff push. 13 games left, and they are all huge and have playoff implications. Toronto is up next Thursday night, then a date with Washington on Saturday night. Both really good opponents and the Lightning will have to play at the level they have been to get the 2 points in these games.
Based on what I’ve seen this last week, I’ll put my money on the Lightning. Go Bolts.