Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: Lightning Clinch a Playoff Spot
With a 7-4 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning clinched their spot in the 2021 postseason, where they’ll have a chance to defend their title as Stanley Cup champions. Here are last night’s thumbs:
Thumbs Up: A Flying Start
When the Lightning scored twice in the first four-and-change minutes of the game – courtesy of Erik Cernak and Yanni Gourde – it looked like they were going to run away with this game. Three straight goals in the second period also gave fans a taste of how dominant this team can be at any given moment. Even if it wasn’t a full Picasso, there were moments in this game that left reason for hope.
Thumbs Down: A Less-Than-Flying Finish
Uncharacteristically weak goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed the Blackhawks to keep things far more interesting than they should have been, especially as the second period transitioned into the third. The Lightning were able to outscore their problems on this night, but that recipe isn’t necessarily something they should hope to stick with as this season moves towards its close.
Thumbs Down: Andrei Vasilevskiy Falling Back to Earth
Speaking of Vasilevskiy, it’s worth pointing out that the gap between him and the rest of the goalie pack has basically shrunk to nil. He’s still right at the top, but there’s a crowd there with him. Considering that he had built such a distance between him and his league-wide crease counterparts earlier this season, it’s a story worth watching at we move towards the playoffs. The Lightning goalie was a big difference maker in the playoffs last season and a major reason that the team won. If he can be at his best, he’s basically unbeatable. When he’s not, though, other weaknesses on this Bolts team are exposed.
Thumbs Up: Alex Barre-Boulet’s Dominant Performance
After scoring his first career goal last time out, Alex Barre-Boulet looked like the weight of a million worlds had been lifted off his shoulders. He was phenomenal in this tilt, creating scoring chances, driving play, and contributing in tangible ways. His goal-scoring play was a perfect encapsulation of all those things. He used his speed to get into scoring position, skill to pull off a spin-o-rama in the slot, and tenacity to push towards the crease, all before popping the puck into the twine. At the end of the night, all of the good things he did added up to a 98% (!) expected goal share at five-on-five, per Natural Stat Trick.
Thumbs Up: Brayden Point’s Three-Point Night
With Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos sidelined, the Lightning need Brayden Point to be firing on all cylinders. He was last night, scoring three points as part of the team’s victory effort. Beyond the three points, he was the main actor on what was the best line in the hockey game. He, Ondrej Palat, and Barre-Boulet were as close to perfect as a line can be at the NHL level. When they were on the ice, they were generating things; when they were on the ice, the Blackhawks weren’t. It’s kind of crazy to think that the Lightning can get that kind of performance out of a trio with this lineup, and that they’re likely to add what will amount to a whole new first line when Stamkos and Kucherov return.
Thumbs Up: Clinching a Playoff Spot
As much as there has been a significant volume of frustrations with this Lightning group this year, the fact that they’ve punched their ticket to the dance means that they’ll get a chance to defend their championship. Anything can happen in the playoffs.
The Lightning will see the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.
As always, thanks for reading.