The Tampa Bay Lightning are about to begin a quest to win a third straight Stanley Cup, which no team has done since the early 80s.
The New York Islanders were the last team to accomplish that feat, and they did it four times from 1980-to 1983. Since that time, no team has won more than two consecutive Stanley Cups.
That is the drop-back as the Lightning will go for three consecutive cups. And it all starts Monday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto.
The Lightning finished third in the division and will not have a home-ice advantage for the first round.
The Maple Leafs are coming off one of their best seasons in franchise history. A season in which the Leafs notched 54 wins, and Auston Matthews scored 60 goals, a new franchise record.
And how do the Maple Leafs get to celebrate all that? A first-round date with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning knows that feeling all too well. Coming off of the best seasons in franchise history in 2019, the Bolts got booted in the first round of the playoffs.. It matters not what you do in the regular season, but what you do starting with game number 83 that matters.
The Leafs have been very good in the regular season but have choked in the playoffs. Last year the Leafs led the Montreal Canadiens three games to one and lost the series four games to three.
The last two games of the regular season between the Lightning and the Leafs were blowouts. The Leafs beat the Lightning 6-2 on April 4th, as Auston Matthews tallied a hat trick.
The Lightning then took down the Leafs 8-1 in a rematch on April 21st.
The Lightning and the Leafs split the season series at 2-2.
Here are my three keys to a Lightning win in this series.
The Lightning has the best goalie in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy. There has been no better goalie in the playoffs than Vasilevskiy the last two seasons.
Vasilevskiy has posted a 1.90 goals-against average the last two years in the playoffs. After a tough March and early April, Vasilevskiy appears to be rounding into playoff form, which bodes well for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Jack Campbell has been outstanding for Toronto but has never been tested in the playoffs. There is a ton of question marks around Jack Campbell. Is he up to the challenge of stopping this high-powered Lightning team in a seven-game series?
Will he stay healthy enough to last the series?
The pressure is on Jack Campbell.
Stay out of the penalty box.
The Lightning will have to play a much more disciplined game in this series to give themselves a chance against the Leafs.
This season, the Bolts were one of the most penalized teams in the league, racking up 298 minor penalties compared with just 258 penalties called on Toronto.
It will be hard to beat this team when defending Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares with just four guys. It’s hard enough five on five. You don’t want to put yourself at a disadvantage against this Leaf’s team.
The Penalty Kill.
When Toronto gets the man advantage, you have to shut them down. A good PK will help you win the cup. The PK certainly helped the Lightning in last year’s playoff run in the series with Florida and Carolina.
Toronto has the best power play in the NHL during the regular season, executing at a 27.3 percent rate.
Last season the Lightning PK was at its best in the playoffs at 86.1 percent. This year the Lightning will lean heavily on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Brandon Hagel, and Nick Paul to duplicate the playoff success on the PK from last year.
This is the healthiest the Lightning have been all season, including Braydon Point, who will be ready to play Monday night against the Leafs.
This will be a close series high-scoring series. There will be no 6-2 or 8-1 scores in this series. I see a lot of 5-3 and 6-4 types of games.
Toronto will try to get physical with the Lightning. But like last year’s first-round matchup with the Panthers, the physicality of the Lightning will counterbalance the skill of the Maple Leafs.
The Lightning is the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The Maple Leafs will have to scratch and claw for everything they get in this series. Nothing will come easy for Toronto against the defending champions.
The Lightning always seems to find that second gear in the playoffs.
I look for the Lightning to extend the Leaf’s post-season misery as they will beat Toronto four games to two to move on to the second round of the NHL playoffs.