Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: Panthers Make a Statement with Round 1 Coming
The Tampa Bay Lightning better hope that they’re able to ice a healthier lineup come Game 1 of the playoffs than they did on Saturday night against the Florida Panthers; otherwise, this will be one of the shorter title defence efforts in NHL history. With the rivalry between the interstate rivals heating up to eleven, the Lightning were on the wrong side of both the play and luck in what ultimately became a 5-1 loss. Here are Saturday’s thumbs:
Thumbs Down: Injuries
It turns out that having Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Jan Rutta held out of the lineup with day-to-day injuries isn’t a great benefit to the Lightning’s chances of success. The blue line was as shorthanded as it’s been all season, which made this an uphill battle from the start. Thankfully, Head Coach Jon Cooper indicated that he’s hoping to have all three back in time for the playoffs.
That’s almost a ‘must’ given how good this Florida team has looked this season. They’re fast, they’re talented, and they have all the tools necessary to upset the defending Champions. Without Hedman and McDonagh, in particular, it’s difficult to see the Lightning having any chance.
Stamkos and Kucherov would help, too.
Thumbs Down: What Did the Lightning Get in David Savard?
It’s not unreasonable to expect some kind of adjustment period for a newly-acquired player, but it would be nice to see David Savard put things together consistently starting right about now. He was really quite ineffective in this game, as a result of being overwhelmed by Florida’s speed. Since being acquired from Columbus in exchange for a significant sum at the trade deadline, Savard has been a bit of a mixed bag for the Lightning. They’re going to need him to be a lot more than that as this regular season ends and the playoffs begin.
Of course, this sort of thing isn’t exactly new for the Lightning. Remember when people were concerned about Blake Coleman’s post-deadline silence last year? He turned out to be one of the team’s most valuable players in the playoffs. Perhaps history will repeat itself.
Thumbs Down: Vasilevskiy’s Struggles
Speaking of mixed bags – the Lightning also need Andrei Vasilevskiy to return to his early-season form if they want to have a shot at winning again. He wasn’t responsible for every goal against in this game, but he wasn’t a difference maker in the right direction either. The first Florida goal, as an example, was a killer.
Only one goaltender in the league has played more minutes and faced more shots than Vasilevskiy this season. Considering the increasing frequency of stinkers he’s allowed over the last month or so, it’s worth wondering whether the long playoff run last year and heavy/condensed workload this season are finally catching up to him.
Thumbs Up: The Rivalry
If the third period of this game is any indication, the Tampa Bay-Florida series could be the series to watch in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. These two teams obviously don’t like each other, and the first round of the postseason doesn’t exactly strike me as an opportunity to make nice.
The Lightning will close their regular season against the Panthers on Monday.
As always, thanks for reading.