3. They have the goaltending/defense
Of course, at some point we were going to get to that “defense wins titles” segment.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy did not play great down the stretch run of the regular season. He gave up an entire crop of scores towards the end. So much so that those scores against are probably being sold by the drum at Costco right now.
Yet, despite smelling of garbage for roughly a whole month, his numbers are still as fresh as daisies. 44 Wins, a .920 save percentage and eight shutouts. Those are all career highs. He’s also still in the Vezina conversation. And that should freak you out if you don’t like Tampa Bay. Mainly for the fact that nobody puts up those numbers with a hideous end to the season unless somewhere before then they were robbing forwards and centers blind. He was doing just that, literally.
Meanwhile, some of us can’t merge into traffic without sticking our head out the window. This guy goes around pulling tricks David Blaine would envy.
Not to mention the Lightning still have Norris Trophy favorite Victor Hedman. We touched lightly upon his 63 points, but it’s that plus 32 rating that has us gaga and googly-eyed. He also averages 26 minutes a game, mostly due to the fact that he’s Victor Hedman.
If both find their top form to begin these playoffs, this is a dangerous and rough tandem to go against, and one that could be game-changing for seasons to come. Especially when Nikita Scores-a-lot is sniping tallies at the other end.