3 Lightning players who need to produce in the 2022 playoffs
After securing their playoff spot and the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning embark on the quest for their third consecutive Stanley Cup. However, many questions will need to be answered if they are to navigate their way through a highly balanced Eastern Conference, starting with a playoff series that begins Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here are three players who need to contribute in order to give the Lightning the best chance to qualify for the playoffs.
Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov will get their fair share of attention from opponents, and while the dynamic Lightning duo are expected to be productive in the playoffs, the Bolts will also have to see consistent production from Point Brayden. For at least two weeks Point has been the proverbial daily with a lower body injury. He missed Friday night’s season finale against the New York Islanders, but was declared ready for the first game of the playoffs. He scored 28 goals and 58 points averaging 19:28 of ice time in 66 games. Although his stat line has been good, he hasn’t been the reliable difference maker like he has been in previous seasons. Much of it has been attributed to his nagging injuries.
One area where Point has been consistently very productive throughout the season has been the Lightning power play. In their last four wins, the Lightning are 9 for 16 (56.3%) with the benefit of man. Every member of the Lightning first team, including Point, has scored at least once on the power play in those past four games. After being ranked 16th on the power play in mid-March, they moved up to eighth ahead of the final two games of the season. Point’s role as a “bumper” has been crucial in recent power-play success, and that play will need to continue into the playoffs if the Lightning seek to advance to a third Stanley Cup.
“Built for the playoffs” was how Nick Paul was described when he was traded just before the deadline to the Lightning by the Ottawa Senators for Mathieu Joseph and a fourth-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft. He will now have his first chance to play playoff hockey and will need to continue to use his size and physique to complement his teammates, just as he did during his recent stint with the team. Although this is his first appearance in the NHL playoffs, Paul is no stranger to meaningful hockey as he scored the winning goal for Canada as they won gold at the 2021 IIHF World Championships.
Paul added courage and points to the Lightning roster, winning 55.92% of his battles in the faceoff circle while adding five goals and nine assists. For a period in mid-April, head coach Jon Cooper added Paul to the top line along with Kucherov and Point. After a short learning curve, the line clicked on a two-game streak that saw the trio collect 14 shots on goal and seven points, and Paul had two. Cooper likes to have big bodies on all of his lines, so it’s a welcome opportunity to have a player like Paul skating with some of the most important players on his team while contributing to his line’s success.
Quietly, Colton has had a great season, especially lately. The 25-year-old gained valuable experience playing in all 23 postseason games for the Lightning. He played very well last month and seems like the kind of young player who can improve his game in big moments. Of course, he will always be remembered for scoring the Cup-winning goal against Montreal last season.
In his second year, Colton scored 22 goals in 79 games. He was very productive when elevated to the top line for a time, playing alongside Steven Stamkos. During that streak just a few weeks ago, he had eight goals and nine points in 12 games. While not expected to play as much alongside Stamkos, the third line, anchored by Colton and Paul, could become one of the Lightning’s playoff X-factors.
Tampa Bay has a rare opportunity for a historic feat. If it completes the championship three times, it would be the first NHL franchise since the New York Islanders dynasty 40 years ago to win the Cup three consecutive years. However, they may need significant production from all three of these players for that to happen.
Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning for THW. A retired special education teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he’s not making his way to the local golf courses.