The Tampa Bay Lightning are 4-2-1 in the last 7 games and are three points behind the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division.
But are they true contenders in the Eastern Conference?
Since beating the Flyers 5-2 two weeks ago, the Lightning have played a current playoff team five times. Tampa is 3-2-1 against those teams.
In the remaining 11 games for the Lightning, six have 80+ points for the season and all remaining opponents are in the Eastern Conference.
The teams the Lightning are playing now will be the teams Tampa is hoping to play during the postseason. These are also teams that the Lightning need to beat in order to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference and to gain confidence entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The @NHLBruins and @Canes are in the top two spots of the Super 16 ranking AGAIN. 🤯
Read more: https://t.co/6ZV7aeKevK
Presented by @NewAmsterdam pic.twitter.com/xotZLuXJu7
— NHL (@NHL) March 16, 2023
Heavy Dose of the Devils
Three of the last four Lightning games have been against the New Jersey Devils. This year’s Devils are not the same Devils in past years.
After finishing last or second to last in the Metro Division in the past three seasons, the Devils are turning it on this season. This New Jersey squad is second in the Metro Division and has the third most points in the NHL.
But the scorching hot Devils ran into a buzzsaw in the Tampa Bay Lightning who are capable of beating any team in the league this season. In both back-to-back games in New Jersey, the Lightning took both of them. After going down by a goal early in the first period, four unanswered goals caused the Lightning to win 4-1 in the first game in New Jersey.
The second leg was not as easy. A back-and-forth game created an overtime thriller that led to a shootout win for the Lightning, scored by Alex Killron.
Although Sunday’s match could have been better for Tampa. After going up by two goals, the game looked like another Lightning win, but the Devils scored five straight goals to take the game in Tampa.
Head Coach Jon Cooper said he is not worried about the recent loss to New Jersey.
"Little hiccup here, but let's strap the boots back on and go to Montreal and get some more points." #NJDvsTBL
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) March 20, 2023
Contenders or Pretenders?
There is something the Lightning have that nobody else in the Eastern Conference has — and his name is Nikita Kucherov.
Kucherov scored his 100th point of the season, the third time in his career. The former Art Ross Trophy winner has shined in the postseason. Kucherov has the franchise record for the most points, goals, and assists in the postseason for the Lightning.
100 FOR KUCH 💯
Nikita Kucherov becomes the third player this season to hit the mark and does it for the third time in his career! pic.twitter.com/p82IFBuI17
— NHL (@NHL) March 19, 2023
While the Lightning are currently 10th in NHL’s Super 16. They appear to be a dark horse entering the postseason. The Lightning have made the Stanley Cup final the past three years and have won twice. They have never won the Atlantic Division in any of those three years and currently have a higher winning percentage than the two years they won the title.
Who is to say they don’t do it all again this year?