The Lightning have emerged as a chic midsummer pick to challenge for the Stanley Cup (see here, and here… and here.)
But are those predictions warranted?
It’s an interesting debate. Those in the “yes” camp will point to a pretty good team from a year ago that made significant offseason upgrades in Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Jason Garrison, Brenden Morrow and Evgeni Nabokov. Steve Stamkos is arguably the league’s purest goalscorer, Ben Bishop and Jon Cooper were Vezina and Jack Adams finalists and the number of young talents (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov) could be joined by an incoming crop of equally gifted prospects (Jonathan Drouin, Brett Connolly, Vladislav Namestnikov and Adam Erne.)
Those in the “no” camp, however, will probably suggest tapping the brakes.
For all the hype surrounding the Bolts, they’ve only made the playoffs once in the last three years and haven’t won a postseason game since 2011, when Guy Boucher was the head coach and Vinny Lecavalier was team captain. There’s been a huge overhaul since and, as a result, the longest-tenured guys on the team are Stamkos and Victor Hedman. There’s also the reliance on Bishop, who had a fantastic ’13-14 campaign but has no track record of sustained success as an NHL starter. He alluded to as much upon signing a two-year extension earlier this month, saying “I think I’ve still got to prove myself,” and “I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder.”
With those two differing opinions in mind, we turn it over to the PHT faithful — are the Bolts legit Stanley Cup contenders?
Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues
The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.
Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.
As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.
The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.
After stunning the Anaheim Ducks with a Game 7 win in the first round, the Nashville Predators remain in California to take on the San Jose Sharks in the second round. You can catch Game 1 on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.
Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson have been named finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, but the debate about who should win is likely to persist right through to June 22 and the annual NHL Awards.
Not only did Karlsson, last year’s Norris winner, lead all blue liners is points with 82, he led the league in assists with 66 and finished tied with Joe Thornton for fourth in the entire NHL in total points. Those lofty offensive totals could make the Ottawa Senators star the clear favorite to claim the award for a third time in his career.
Karlsson is the first NHL defenseman to score at least 82 in a season since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (85 points) and Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins (82 points) in 1995-96.
Burns — is there an award for most outrageous beard? — is also coming off an impressive regular season, finishing just shy of the 30-goal mark with 27 and 75 points in 82 games for the Sharks. He’s also had a strong showing in the post-season, as well, with eight points in the opening round versus L.A.
Doughty’s offensive numbers don’t match up with the production from Karlsson or Burns, with 51 points in 82 games for the Kings. There were eight defensemen ahead of him in overall point production. But he’s often recognized for logging hefty amounts of ice time, averaging 28:01 in the regular season, on a Kings team that often dominates puck possession at even strength.
“You’re going to have to make those little plays that aren’t going to show up on the highlights. (Doughty’s) defensive partners — the little things he’ll do just to get his partner time to make a play. He’s three steps ahead of everything, and because he is that, he makes it look easy.”