It was going to happen sooner or later. The Tampa Bay Lightning were at some point of the current NHL campaign definitely going to be crowned as the league’s best team in the regular season. That moment finally arrived on March 18th when the Lightning downed the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 at home at the Amalie Arena and were named winners of the President’s Trophy.
With the two points earned in the victory, Tampa guaranteed themselves top spot in the league this season as they notched their 116th point of the year. This means they’re also king of the hill in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference as they can’t be caught now. Of course, they will also be getting home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
It’s the first President’s Trophy in franchise history and they’ll now be hoping to win a second Stanley Cup. The first and only time they managed to hoist Lord Stanley’s silverware came back in the 2003/04 campaign.
The President’s Trophy was first handed out in 1985/86 and nine winners of the regular-season points race have gone on to capture the Stanley Cup. Tampa head coach Jon Cooper was extremely proud of the accomplishment and told the Associated Press, “Trophies are hard to win, they truly are. And when you win one you should be damn proud of it. I know there are a lot of teams that have not won that trophy and I think it’s something you should embrace.”
Cooper’s players clinched first place in the league in 73 games of an 82-game season to become the second-quickest club to do so. The only team do win the President’s Trophy in a shorter amount of time was the 1995/96 Detroit Red Wings who managed to do it in 71 games.
It was also an extra special night for Lightning skipper Steven Stamkos as he emerged from the game as the franchise’s all-time leading goalscorer. He found the back of the net for the 36th time this season and the 384th time in his big league career. This enabled him to pass former Tampa Bay great Vincent Lecavalier who posted 383 goals for the team. Stamkos set the new record in his 737th regular-season contest with the squad while Lecavalier originally set the mark in 1,037 games.
The Lightning is the highest-scoring team in the NHL this season with an average of 3.85 goals per game while the rest of the league is averaging three goals and outing. They have five players who have reached at least 20 goals in Brayden Point, Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde. In addition, Point, Stamkos and Kucherov have at least 35 each under their belt. Kucherov is also the league leader in both points and assists as of March 18th with 117 and 82 to his name respectively.
But what makes the team so strong is the fact they also possess one of the best defense’s in the league. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been red hot with 20 wins since January first to lead the league and he’s also tied for top spot in overall wins with 35. He’s also tied for second in the league with six shutouts. And how many clubs can boast a backup goalie who has posted 20 wins? The Lightning can as Louis Domingue has chipped in with 20 victories. Also, when it comes to the players’ plus/minus ratings, Lightning blue liner Ryan McDonagh leads the way in the NHL at plus-39.
As a team, Tampa Bay leads the league in special teams as their power play and penalty killing are both ranked number one. The power play is rolling at a 28.4 per cent success rate while the league average is 19.6 per cent. The penalty killing is successful 85.7 per cent of the time while the average is 80.3.
It’s fully expected the Lightning will kick of this year’s playoffs as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup simply by default. Their first series will come against the Eastern Conference’s second wild card team, but the road will immediately get rockier after that as they’ll likely be meeting either the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs, also of the Atlantic Division. The Bruins and Leafs are currently ranked as the third and fifth best teams in the league respectively when it comes to points earned.
But even though Tampa Bay has proven to be the class of the league this season it doesn’t mean a thing once the puck is dropped to open the playoffs. It’ll definitely help that they have the home-ice edge all spring long and this is something they took advantage of when winning the Stanley Cup in 2003/04.
Things didn’t work out as planned last season though as Tampa fell in seven games to the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final at home. They failed to score a goal in the last two contests as they were shut out 3-0 and 4-0.
The Lightning need to remain sharp over the last nine games of the regular season and enter the playoffs while firing on all cylinders. There could be a tendency to take the foot off the pedal since they’ve clinched the President’s Trophy, but that would likely do more damage than good. Cooper may decide to ease off on the minutes for his top players the rest of the way, but they need to remain sharp and focused to avoid the disappointing end to last season.
Tampa has worked hard to get this far and with 56 wins on the season they still have a chance to break the league record of 62 set by the 1995/96 Red Wings. They have done just about everything right in 2018/19 and can’t afford to stray from the beaten path during the rest of the journey