David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup contenders

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Time is running out for early seats on the Tampa Bay Lightning bandwagon. Ben Bishop has emerged as a legitimate starting goaltender in Florida, and is the last piece of the puzzle of a strong team in the Lightning.

The perception of Tampa Bay is that it still has holes on the blue line. They they can’t stop ‘em nearly well enough to make them contenders. The reality is that only five teams in the NHL are giving up fewer goals-against per game than the Lightning. Casual observers might chalk that stat up to Bishop and his outstanding play, but there’s more to it than that.

Consider this: Tampa is also one of the best teams in the league when it comes to limiting shots against. They are allowing an average of 27 shots to get through to their net, and Only the Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild have been better in that department.

On the other side of the puck, the Lightning have been getting the job done as well. They are the fourth-most effective offensive team in the NHL, scoring an average of 3.57 times a game. On the power play, the Lightning have been stellar, converting 24.1% of the time.

If you’re trying to poke holes in Tampa’s game, you’re going to have a tough time doing it at the moment. If this squad was playing anywhere but Florida they’d be the talk of the NHL right now, but they’ve been quiet in their dominance—yes, dominance—of the opposition through their last six games.

They’ve only lost one contest in that stretch, dropping a 5-4 game to the Penguins despite leading in the third period. That was a rare hiccup for the Lightning though, who have won their other five games since losing the home opener.

For proof that this team can hang with the NHL’s elite, check out the replay of their game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. They trailed in that October 5 contest in the third period, yet managed to secure the victory after potting two goals in the final frame.

The Lightning are always one Steven Stamkos one-timer away from tying the game. Lurking on the blue line, waiting for massive hits are Radko Gudas and Victor Hedman. This is a team that has all the gears properly greased and going, and no one should be surprised if this squad is making some noise once the postseason rolls around.

Tags: NHL Tampa Bay Lightning

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