The Bolts are dangerous, and much like the shirtless man swinging a katana while blindfolded in your mall parking lot, you would be wise to keep your distance.
Even after last night’s loss to Montréal this team still has a chance to tie the NHL regular season win record of 62 (95’-96’ Red Wings) and in all likelihood, will pass the previous record set by – look at that – the ’76-’77 Canadiens. In a game that meant nothing, as far as jockeying for postseason position goes, the Lightning still appeared to be the more sound team. There should be wide consideration for Jon Cooper to take home coach of the year. An award usually reserved as a backhanded compliment towards the coach who was able to make something out of a bad situation. So, congrats Isles?
Montréal had to look like the best possible version of themselves to get this win. They managed to seal the game off of a Max Domi breakaway that was the direct result of the effort they put into this tilt. For much of the game the desperate Habs did not look this smooth, most forechecks and desperate scrambles for the puck resulted in one or two players sprawled out on the ice. The Bolts on the other hand looked effortless. Almost able to score at will, while seeing the play through the chaos in their offensive end.
Of the 45 shots Montréal peppered Edward Pasquale with, the Habs managed to net 4 goals, two of which were weird as hell. One Armia got ahold of behind the net and ricocheted it of Pasquale’s chest, in an extraordinarily rude move. The second came from a baseball swing right in Pasquale’s face, that took all of Artturi Lehkonen’s silky smooth hands in order not to take the goalie’s head off. Two goals ended up being the difference in this one, you do the math.
While the Lightning got a few more chances in the third and played a competent forecheck throughout, their heart wasn’t in it down the stretch. Especially after a questionable embellishment call that changed what could have been a power play for the Bolts in the final four minutes to a 4on4. They looked proficient but lacked any fire that undoubtedly would have been there in a playoff situation.
The Lightning possess one of the only four real advantageous spots in the current NHL playoff format, which is placing first in your division and a crack at a wild card team. Otherwise you’re likely playing a team with a nearly identical record. Or, like Montréal, scrapping to be that wildcard team. A loss to them down the stretch will serve as a wake up call, do not expect Stamkos & co. to make the same mistake twice.
Readers may recognize Pasquale’s name from our article on player’s traded away by Peter Chiarelli. At that time we had suggested one of the weaknesses of that team was goaltending, however I’d be willing to walk that take back a bit. Pasquale, a third string goalie, stopped most of what he was supposed to. It was really the dirty goals that made the difference in this one. He reads like the type of unknown backup poised to go on a playoff run if called upon. This is an unlikely scenario with Vasilevskiy’s performance this year, but goalies have been shaken before. That’s when the Matt Murrays, Scott Darlings, and Darcy Kuempers of the league get to line up between the pipes and go insane. They don’t have to be good forever, they just have to be amazing for a series or two, and I think Pasquale shows flashes of that.
This team looks to me like the ’16-’17 (and ’18) Penguins, an unstoppable force set to steamroll through the playoffs. They should cut through the first round with ease, and depending on how hard the Leafs and Bruins go at each other, should be able to mop up what’s left of them in the second round. After that comes the soft soft Metropolitan division, likely your defending champ Capitals. Finally the west, who the Lightning hold a 9-4-3 record against current playoff teams in. This, however, is hockey. By far the best playoffs, despite the format, in all of major sports. Anything can happen, nothing is guaranteed. That last 62 win team I mentioned, the ’95-’96 Red Wings, couldn’t even make the finals. They scrapped for thirteen games over two rounds before getting bounced with only two wins in the western conference finals by Colorado.