The Wraparound: Nothing seems to slow down the Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrew Bershaw /Icon_Sportswire

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.

• Catch up with all of Sunday’s NHL Stanley Cup Playoff action with the NHL Rink Wrap.

• The Lightning look to punch another ticket to the Eastern Conference Final.

• The Blues try to get even with the Avalanche with Ville Husso back in net.

If the Tampa Bay Lightning can win one more game against the Florida Panthers, they will be back in the Eastern Conference Final for the sixth time in the past eight seasons and continue their quest for a third consecutive championship. They have a chance to get that win, and complete a Second Round sweep of the 2021-22 Presidents’ Trophy winners, on Monday night (7 p.m. ET; TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports).

They enter Monday’s game with a commanding 3-0 series lead following Sunday’s 5-1 win, having taken complete control against the Panthers in a series that is suddenly becoming unexpectedly one-sided. Expectations were sky high for this series following the excitement of their First Round matchup a year ago, combined with the fact the Panthers had the league’s best offense and best record this season.

The Lightning, though, have completely squashed out that offense allowing just three goals in the first three games of the series, while also running the Panthers’ power play goal drought to eight consecutive games. It is total domination by a team that has become the gold standard for winning in the NHL right now. And that standard remains in place no matter what they seem to be dealing with or who they have to play without.

Since the start of the 2014-15 season, when this current run by the Lightning began, no team has won more regular season games (384) or playoff games (77), with the latter number being 22 more than the second-place team (the Pittsburgh Penguins with 45 playoff wins). They are also making a serious run at being the first team to win back-to-back-to-back championships since the early 1980s New York Islanders dynasty.

Coming into the playoffs there was every reason to believe the Lightning run might come to an end. There was the fatigue factor after consecutive Stanley Cup runs. There was the changes to the lineup. The path looked remarkably tougher this season based on their matchups. And then there was the fact the team seemed to be running out of steam going into the playoffs.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

In the end, none of that has mattered yet. Over the past five teams that attempted to three-peat, four of them ended up losing in the Second Round, while the fifth lost in the First Round.

The Lightning are just a win away from clearing that Second Round hurdle. Making a sixth trip to the league’s semifinal round in an eight-year stretch is impressive enough. But just consider what Tampa Bay has been overcoming over just the past couple of years.

  • They won the 2020 Stanley Cup while getting just one playoff game from their captain and one of their best players. Steven Stamkos, who missed almost the entire postseason due to injury.
  • In 2020-21, they played the entire regular season without Nikita Kucherov and still finished with one of the league’s best records on their way to a second consecutive championship.
  • This year they watched their entire third line leave to free agency and the expansion draft, traded Tyler Johnson in a salary cap clearing trade, and still managed to build one of the deeper teams in the league. Then once the playoffs began they still managed to beat a really good Toronto Maple Leafs team despite a sub-.900 save percentage in the series from All-Star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, and have now won three consecutive games against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Panthers without getting a single minute from Brayden Point.

No matter what they just keep on rolling.

Even without Point at the moment, and with a completely rebuild bottom-six, the Lightning still have elite offensive talents in Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov at the top of the lineup, and are still able to play a lockdown defensive game that can suck the life out of any offense, including one as good as Florida’s. One of the main key’s to the latter point has been the play of Vasilevskiy, who seems to have rediscovered his elite level following a slow start to the playoffs.

Vasilevskiy’s regular season numbers dipped a little bit this season, and there had to be some concern about his workload over the past three seasons. No goalie has played more hockey than him since the start of the 2019-20 season, including every minute of playoff action for the Lightning during that time. But after a slow start through his first six playoff games he has now gone on a four-game stretch where he has allowed only four goals (total), and is back to being a game-changer.

That is the biggest development for the Lightning right now.

As long as Vasilevskiy is playing the way he has been there is nobody in the league that can match up with this Lightning team. They have the star power to score with anybody, the defensive ability to lock things down in the neutral zone and their own end of the ice, and the best goalie in hockey to put them over the top. It is all starting to click for them at the same time yet again.

[NHL Power Rankings: Top Second Round storylines]

NHL PLAYOFF GAMES TODAY

Game 4: Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning (TB Leads Series 3-0), 7 p.m. ET — TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports: This has been such a stunning turnaround for the Panthers offense. They averaged over four goals per game during the regular season, the first team in nearly three decades to accomplish that over a full 82-game season, and they can not seem to generate anything in the playoffs. They have not looked right at any point this postseason.

Game 4: Colorado Avalanche at St. Louis Blues (COL Leads Series 2-1), 9:30 p.m. ET — TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports: Jordan Binnington was giving the Blues a chance in this series until he got injured in Game 3 over the weekend. He is now out for the remainder of the Second Round and put the St. Louis net back in the hands of Ville Husso. Husso looked great during the regular season and took over the starting job because of his strong play, but struggled early in the First Round (despite a shut out in his first game) and gave the job back to Binnington. The Blues are going to need him to rediscover his regular season level of play to give the Blues a chance. Colorado will be without Sam Girard for the remainder of the playoffs due to a fractured sternum, but the Avalanche defense is still loaded with talent. This is going to be a major challenge for the Blues.

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
• Hurricanes vs. Rangers
Lightning vs. Panthers
Avalanche vs. Blues
• Flames vs. Oilers
Makar, McDavid lead Conn Smythe watch after First Round
NHL Second Round predictions

Scroll Down For: