NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Wednesday night, as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can stream the game by clicking here.
After missing the playoffs last season, the Lightning couldn’t have envisioned getting off to a better start this season. Through 20 games, only the St. Louis Blues (33 points in 22 games) have picked up more points than the Bolts (32 points in 20 games). As you can see from the numbers, Tampa has games in hand on St. Louis and they only trail by one point.
The Lightning are coming off a 5-3 loss to the Islanders on Saturday, but that was their first regulation defeat since Oct. 28 in Anaheim.
There’s many reasons why they’ve been so good this season, but look no further than the line of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov. That trio has been lights out so far this season, as they’ve combined to score 88 points in 20 games.
Add the stellar play of blue liners Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, and Anton Stralman, as well as Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s dominance between the pipes, and it’s easy to see why they’re playing so well.
After tonight’s game, the Lightning will hit the road to close out the month. They’ll travel to Washington, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Boston over the next week.
Since falling apart in a 7-5 loss to the Devils on Nov. 12, the Blackhawks have won each of their last two games (6-3 over the Rangers, 2-1 against Pittsburgh).
If the playoffs started today, the ‘Hawks wouldn’t be in, but the playoffs don’t start today, so there’s plenty of time for them to figure out what’s gone wrong.
Tonight, they’ll have their hands full with the potent Tampa Bay attack, and they have to play a sound game if they want to come out on top.
“You have to know who’s out there, who can make plays,” goalie Corey Crawford said of the Lightning, per the Chicago Tribune. “Who is more of a drive-to-the-net, gritty player. You have to be patient. Their D-men are in the rush as lot. They’re going to have guys coming through the middle.”
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.