A couple decades ago, it was hard to imagine Tampa Bay being a hockey town. Nestled along Florida’s western coast, Tampa is a sunny spot. These days, the Tampa Bay Lightning own the city, and the NHL, for that matter.
The Tampa Bay Lightning lead the league with 110 points, 16 ahead of the next best team. With only 12 games left in the regular season, they are essentially a lock to win the Presidents’ Trophy. Of course, this makes them the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
No other team is in the same conversation as the Lightning right now. While other teams made multiple tweaks and improvements during a busy trade deadline season, the Tampa Bay left their roster as is. Why mess with what appears to be the perfect formula for success?
People have been raving about the Lightning's depth since last summer, expecting them to capture their second Stanley Cup in franchise history. Rolling four highly capable lines makes them impossible to play against, especially with so many elite forwards.
The Bolts lived up to the hype, leading the league in goals per game and power-play percentage. Nikita Kucherov has an exceptional 111 points through 70 games, making him a frontrunner for the Hart Trophy. The only argument against him is the fact that he plays alongside so many other superstars.
Lightning Coach Jon Cooper has the luxury of placing Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos, J.T Miller and Ondrej Palat in his Top 6. They are certainly not lacking on defense either, with Victor Hedman anchoring the corps. They rank fourth in the league in goals against per game.
Everything appears to be magical in Tampa Bay, but the reality of hockey is that they are only set up for disappointment. Expectations are higher than ever for the organization to win it all. As a team that has dominated the league all year, it is only logical to expect them to win a championship.
But looking back at the league’s recent history, since the last lockout in 2004-05, the Presidents’ Trophy winners have only won the Stanley Cup two times. The 2008 Detroit Red Wings and 2013 Chicago Blackhawks were the only teams to fulfill their expectation to be the last team standing in June.
Hockey’s playoffs are a different animal, and unlike the NBA, they are extremely unpredictable. Sure, the best teams have the greatest chance of winning the Cup, but each team in the tournament has a legitimate shot at winning it all. Hockey becomes a different game come playoff time as the physicality and intensity rises.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings finished eighth in the Western Conference, securing the final playoff spot. They went on to win the Stanley Cup, losing just four playoff games en route to their first Stanley Cup. You never know what will happen once the regular season gets erased.
The Lightning are battle tested, primed to make a deep playoff run. But with hockey, nothing is guaranteed. Because of the NHL’s unusual playoff system, they are bound to play either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Boston Bruins if they advance to the second round. Boston specifically has been flying down the stretch of the season, and could easily beat Tampa Bay in a seven game series. They currently have the second best record in the Eastern Conference, and have strengthened their offense with the additions of Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle.
So we can keep talking about what a historic season the Lightning are having, but it will all be forgotten if they do not complete the mission. While it seems like they have proven everything already this season, in reality they have proven nothing.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.