Once again we turn to a fellow SB Nation blog to learn more about our next opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning. JustinG. of Raw Charge was kind enough to take the time yesterday to answer my questions. Be sure to check out his site for more coverage of this series from the Tampa perspective.
The Cannon: Did last year’s upset in the playoffs lead to any significant changes in scheme or personnel?
Raw Charge: It did. In the offseason the Lightning added a little size with forward Patrick Maroon and defensemen Luke Schenn. Then, at the trade deadline they sacrificed a couple of first round draft picks to bring in Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman - two more rugged forwards that are more known for their ability to retrieve pucks and maintain possession than they are for their finishing skills.
With the top-six talent that they already had on the roster in the form of players like Brayden Point, NIkita Kuckerov, Anthony Cirelli, and Steven Stamkos they weren’t lacking in goal scoring so they needed to fill out their depth a little bit.
The schemes are still pretty much the same, but they spent a lot of time in Training Camp 2.0 working on battle drills and breakout plays. They’ve struggled against teams that forecheck well in the past, but hopefully the additions change that this year.
It seemed like in last year’s series that the Lightning struggled to adjust to what the Blue Jackets were doing. Do you think they’ll approach the series differently this time?
I think they will focus on executing their game plan a little more. Last season it seemed like they got rattled after blowing the 3-0 lead in Game One and spent the rest of the series chasing Columbus. If the Lightning are smart with the puck and don’t give in to retaliatory penalties or get frustrated, they should be alright.
Jon Cooper hasn’t been known to make a lot of adjustments during series play, and that worries more than one fan in these parts. So it’ll be interesting to see how he does if things start going sideways a little bit.
They are also coming off of a much tougher regular season this season and seem to understand that they need to put the work in to win. Hopefully they learned that mismatches on paper don’t translate to wins on the ice. Expect them to be a lot more physical than in last year’s match-up.
What was the level of play like in the round robin relative to the regular season or to a regular playoff? Can we draw any conclusions from the Lightning’s three games there or were they just treating them like preseason warm-ups?
I would say that they played the round robin games at a regular-season intensity. One nice thing about the way it worked out is that they were matched up against three teams that they don’t get along well with. Washington has been a nemesis since the Southeastern Division days and if you ask the majority of fans Boston is their number one rival right now. Nobody likes Philly.
There were a few less-than-kind hits in the Boston and Washington games that will be remembered if they meet down the road in these playoffs and that ratcheted up their level of intensity a little. Based on the fact that they went mostly with their starters all three games, it was obvious they were gunning for top seed.
As far as conclusions, we didn’t learn too much new. The Point/Kucherov/Ondrej Palat line was their best line in all three games and chances are if/when Stamkos comes back, Coach Cooper will put him on the second line rather than break up that trio.
The biggest question mark was how the defense was going to be paired up; there was a strong likelihood that Zach Bogoasian was going to see time on the top pair with Victor Hedman. With Hedman’s injury (status unknown as of Monday) that shakes things up even more. Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak move to the top pairing, but below that there could be some switching around.
How concerned are you about the injuries to Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman? Which one is more costly, and how will Tampa Bay adjust to each absence if they end up missing games?
Victor Hedman by far. We love ourselves some Steven Stamkos and if he’s at full health there isn’t a team in the league that can run with the Lightning’s top-six, but their offense can get by without him. If Hedman is out long term, that’s a huge blow to the team. He was less than healthy last time these two teams met in the playoffs and you see how that worked out for the Bolts.
With Stamkos, the biggest change is on the power play. Tyler Johnson moves up to the first unit and Point slides out to where Stamkos is usually lined up. The one-timer from the left circle isn’t quite the threat coming from Point, but they still have enough skill to move the puck around.
As for Hedman...well, I don’t know how they adjust. Expect a ton of ice time from Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev. Expect some cringe-worthy play from a Braydon Coburn/Zach Bogosian pairing. Sergachev will hold his own as the power play quarterback, but there just is no replacing Hedman’s play throughout the game.
Outside of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Hedman is the most important player on the team.
Who is an overlooked player who you feel may make an impact in this series, and that we should keep an eye on?
Probably Sergachev. I normally have Anthony Cirelli as my go-to answer for this question, but with Hedman out I think Sergachev has the chance to make the biggest impact. When the Lightning picked him up in the Jonathan Drouin trade, they knew about his offensive skills and he’s lived up to that expectation.
The big thing that he’s added this season is physicality. He’s learned how to use his size a little bit better and plays with a little more edge to his game. Serge has dropped the gloves more than once this season and every time he does, it seems to fire the team up.
He’s going to get 20+ minutes a game and prime power play time. This could be his chance to gain recognition on a national scale. Well, at least as much recognition as a series with three afternoon games can get.
Finally, what is your prediction for the series? How do you see this playing out?
It’s going to be a grind. There is going to be some beautifully ugly hockey played over the next two weeks. I think the difference ends up being the Lightning power play and they win in six games.
Thanks again, Justin!