The Tampa Bay Lightning continue their Stanley Cup journey when they open up their second-round series at 5 PM this afternoon against the Carolina Hurricanes.
You never know what can happen when two forces of nature collide, and the Lightning and Hurricanes series should be no exception.
The Hurricanes won the Central Division regular-season title with 80 points. So have earned the home-ice advantage. The Lightning finished third in the division with 75 points.
This will be another first for the Lightning as they have never met Carolina in the playoffs.
The Lightning went 4-3-1 against Carolina during the regular season. The Bolts were 3-1-0 against the Canes at Amalie Arena and were 1-2-1 at PNC Arena in Raleigh. The Hurricanes, however, won two of the last three regular-season games against the Lightning.
The Lightning advanced, beating the Florida Panthers four games to two in the Sunshine State Showdown. Carolina beat Nashville four games to two, with four of the games going into overtime.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amor talked about the matchup with the Lightning. “We know what we’re up against. We’re going to have to be as good as we can to have a chance against these guys, especially now that they’ve got their full group back. It’s a great challenge for us. We’ll give it all we’ve got.”
Again this will be a series with minimal surprises as these teams faced each other eight times during the regular season and know each other’s tendencies.
One clear advantage the Lightning has is Nikita Kucherov. The Hurricanes did not play the Lightning with Kucherov in the lineup, and he adds a whole different dynamic to this Lightning lineup.
The power play is lethal once gain with Kucherov quarterbacking the power play. The Lightning were 8 for 20 on the power play in their first-round series against Florida.
Andrei Vasilevskiy did not put up great numbers in the first-round series but was stellar in the nets when he needed to be.
Vasilevskiy allowed 16 goals in the six-game series for a 2.64 GAA. The third most allowed goals allowed in the playoffs. The Hurricanes have two excellent scoring lines, and that matchup could work to Carolina’s advantage.
Blake Coleman returned to the Lightning in game six of the Panthers series, and his impact was immediately felt. Jon Cooper talked about his impact and what he brings to the Lightning.
“You can’t have all Ferraris, sometimes you need a good old-fashioned four-wheel-drive Jeep to get you through the mud, and that’s what Barclay Goodrow can do for you.” Great analogy by coach Cooper.
Cooper talked about the first-round series with the Panthers.
“I think as that series went on, we got better as a team, and I think that from having a little bit of a common lineup. I think getting Goodrow back pushed us to another level, added a little bit more depth for us. I like the way our team’s progressing. Now we’re in the Second Round, and now we’re playing another team that had more points than us. Another team that brings a different challenge. This group, we have to show more growth. As that series went on, I was proud of the way the guys came together for not being together all year.”
Like the Panthers, the Hurricanes are a very quick team and will bring constant pressure to force turnovers and take away the open ice to create plays.
Here are three keys for the Lightning to win the series:
- Win the battle on special teams. Carolina’s power is better than great. They are elite, according to Jon Cooper. “Florida and Carolina, they’re better than good, they’re better than great. They have elite power plays, and it’s just going to be another major test for us.”
Tampa Bays’ penalty kill was not great against the Panthers’ killing penalties at a 72.7 percent rate. The Hurricanes play differently on the penalty kill than most teams. They will put offensive players like Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas out on the penalty kill to score short-handed. The Hurricanes converted 20 percent of their short-handed chances in the Nashville series.
The Lightning will have to do a better job of staying out of the penalty box.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasi will have to play better than he did against the Panthers. He was great when he needed to be, but he also allowed some goals that he usually stops. He has to see the puck and clear the pucks in front of the net to limit those chances.
This is not all on Vasilevskiy, as the defense needs to make sure no Carolina players can park in front of the net.
- The grind line must help shut down the Carolina scoring line. With the return of Barclay Goodrow to the lineup, the line of Gourde, Coleman, and Goodrow made a big difference in game six in shutting down the Panther’s offense.
Ross Colton did a good job filling in for Goodrow, But he is not Barclay Goodrow. He is not the grinder that Goodrow is.
This will be a long series. The Lightning has made adjustments in the post-season to keep the Panthers in check. They will need to do that in this series.
The Lightning will win the series in seven games and move on to the Conference Finals.