The Tampa Bay Lightning have won the President’s Trophy. They’re the second team in league history to have four win streaks of 7+ in the same season. They’re four games away from tying the most wins in a season.
Basically the Lightning are a force in the NHL this season, and are currently sitting at +200 to win the Stanley Cup. So here’s why you should be wary betting the Bolts to win it all in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Tampa is not unstoppable, just nearly unstoppable. There is a difference. Fans of the Bolts have seen their team stopped cold a couple times this season, with a baffling 3-0 loss at home to Minnesota being a particular lowlight on the season.
It looks like a trend, as the Bolts didn’t beat the Wild during their trip to the frozen tundra earlier this year. Minnesota is a slower, grind-it-out team that presents a problematic matchup for Tampa. Similar teams: the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders, both in the Eastern Conference.
Obviously the bigger problem for Tampa is the Bruins, as they’re in the division and will likely await the Bolts in the second round. It’s these slower paced teams that give Tampa trouble, as the Bolts have lost to the Islanders and Bruins this season in games that were wholly dominated by the opposition.
They can win those games, though. The Bolts have smacked around slow paced teams like Calgary, Dallas, and Columbus earlier in the season. But Tampa hasn’t beaten Boston yet, and has trouble with the Islanders.
And what do the Islanders have in common with the 2017-18 Capitals team that held Tampa scoreless for two and a half straight games? Head coach Barry Trotz. He came in with the perfect game plan to grind the Bolts into the ground, and eventually Tampa’s scoring dried up. He knew Tampa couldn’t grind out 4 wins over 7 games, and played it perfectly.
It’s a trap that Tampa will want to avoid this season, but it might be impossible to side step. The Lightning simply doesn’t match up well against teams that are going to grind out a series. They’ll have to make like their namesake and finish a series quickly if they want to win the Cup.
You can’t write about a President’s Trophy winner without mentioning the stereotype that the President’s Trophy winner never win the Stanley Cup.
What won’t comfort Tampa fans is that history doesn’t favor President’s Trophy winner, but it’s not as bad as people make it out to be. There have been 8 simultaneous President’s Trophy/Stanley Cup champions since the introduction of the trophy in 1986, and it’s been over 10 years since last it happened in a full season.
Not even the all time best regular season team won the Stanley Cup. The 1995-96 Red Wings won 62 games and 131 points, but didn’t take home Lord Stanley. Those are the two regular season records that Tampa is chasing, but it won’t mean much if Tampa doesn’t win the Cup.
It’s not impossible, the 2007-08 Red Wings managed to deliver the last full season simultaneous champion, and the 2012-13 Blackhawks won both in a lockout-shortened season. But the modern game doesn’t lend itself to simultaneous champions.
The biggest thing to think about is the fact that performing at such a high level for 82 games a year will eventually cause teams to burn out, especially when they get to the playoffs and can’t perform vs bad matchups.
Finishing the season strong is another key for a successful Cup run, and Tampa really isn’t set up to do that. The Lightning survived some of their biggest tests, including a trip to Washington, with a back-to-back at Carolina.
But there are warning signs of them cooling off, and it capitulated in a stinker at St. Louis, the second-slowest 5-on-5 team in the NHL. Two meetings with also-slow-paced Boston loom, as well as one more game against Washington.
There’s plenty that could go wrong, and experienced defenseman Dan Girardi is already shut down for an undetermined amount of time. Injuries could absolutely derail the team, and Tampa seems to have a history as seen in 2015 and 2016.
If you were going to bet someone to win the Stanley Cup, have some reservations about picking the Lightning to run all the way. There’s plenty to like about the team, not mentioning the fact they’re one of the best teams in recent times. But bettors might want to wait the rest of the regular season before taking Tampa.
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