Posts Tagged ‘Lightning’
Fresh blood: that’s the easiest way to describe the four teams remaining that still have Stanley Cup dreams on their mind. The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins represent impressive turnover in the NHL’s final four playoff slots with three new teams for 2016.
They are a true representation of the league’s Salary Cap era, but the Conference Finalists in the 2010s were rarely made up of fresh faces. The usual suspects, near dynasties Chicago and Los Angeles, and perennial favorite the New York Rangers in the East, bowed out in the first round.
Replacing Chicago and Los Angeles in the West are two of the most star-crossed franchises in the NHL.
Emerging from the Central Division was the usually disappointing Blues, a squad that has been stuck in neutral over the past few years trying to outlast the Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators in easily the league’s toughest grouping. However, this is St. Louis 2.0, a retooled team that combined its prior size, grit and outstanding blue line with new skilled young offensive weapons.
The biggest question mark going into the Stanley Cup finals is whether Chicago has enough left in the tank to survive one last grueling series against the one team in the NHL capable of matching or surpassing its team speed: the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Chicago’s path to the finals has been nothing short of heroic, requiring defeats of Nashville, Minnesota, and Anaheim — two bona fide Cup contenders and another just outside that discussion at the moment. While dismantling the Ducks, the Hawks overcame both a 3-2 series deficit and the fact that Anaheim had yet to lose a game in regulation in the playoffs prior to Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
All Tampa Bay did to reach the Stanley Cup finals was defeat three straight Original Six franchises — something no team had ever done en route to the finals — outlasting Detroit, Montreal and New York. It took the Bolts just one less than the maximum 21 games, and they have a chance to put a stamp on the run by ending Chicago’s dynasty talk.
Amazingly, Tampa should have been ousted from the playoffs twice. First they rallied to overcome the far less talented, but extremely well-coached Red Wings. Then in the Conference finals the Lightning did the nearly unthinkable, defeating the Rangers and superstar goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.
Chicago and Tampa Bay, on paper, have a chance to be one of the greatest all-time matchups from a pure hockey standpoint. But how will it play out? Read my prediction below:
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Gone from the playoffs are recent Stanley Cup finals stalwarts Los Angeles and Boston. Joining them for an early summer golf vacation are the San Jose Sharks, who’ve been to 10 straight postseasons (and 15 of the last 16), and fellow 2014 postseason participants Colorado, Dallas, Columbus and Philadelphia.
Taking the place of those seven teams are Washington, the New York Islanders, Ottawa, Nashville, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary.
The result of all of the chaos: A wide-open Eastern Conference playoff bracket, featuring one dominant team (the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers) and a whole slew of legitimate Cup contenders, including Montreal, Tampa Bay and Washington.
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Roberto Luongo is the epitome of unpredictable.
Sometimes he’ll get stoked for overtime – then miss the opening minutes because nature is calling.
Sometimes he’ll say, “I always want to put the team ahead of me,” when, in actuality, he’s minutes away from requesting a trade, which happened in April when Los Angeles terminated his Vancouver Canucks’ playoff run.
So we might not know how Roberto Luongo’s future will unfold. We do know this: When “Luongo” and “request” are mentioned in the same sentence, silly things happen.