With the Canes set to open their second-round series with the Lightning tonight, we caught up with our fellow SB Nation site, Raw Charge to break down the upcoming opponent with site manager Justin Godfrey and his team.
Check out their answers below, and be sure to visit Raw Charge for more of the opponent’s perspective on this upcoming series.
1. The Lightning handled the Panthers fairly easily. What went so well for them in that series, what were their keys to victory?
Geo: The power play and the Panthers’ goalies struggling in the first few games.
Hardev: Honestly, it mostly came down to the Panthers floundering with Bobrovsky and Dreidger in net. They both put up horrible save percentages and it cost them games where the Panthers were legitimately better in both shots and expected goals. Eight power play goals, and being +3 on special teams against the Panthers certainly helped.
JustinG.: Nikita Kucherov doing Nikita Kucherov things and the Panthers’ goaltending woes at the beginning of the series. Honestly, every though the final scores of some of the games made it look like the Lightning coasted, it was a battle on a night-by-night basis. The two teams matched up well, and if Quenneville had gone to Spencer Knight sooner, the outcome might have been different.
2. Obviously getting Kucherov and Stamkos back made a huge impact in round one. How much more dangerous do they make the Bolts, and how much different is this team than the one the Canes saw in the regular season with them in the lineup?
Geo: There’s two big places they have an impact on. The first is the power play. Having a fast and accurate one-timer one both wings means that the goalie can never cheat to one side. Add in Brayden Point and Victor Hedman as threats down the middle and Alex Killorn around the net and the puck could be coming at the goalie from any angle. Kucherov is also a master at deception with his slap passes. After beating Bobrovsky twice in one game on one-timers, he used that psychological advantage to fake a one-timer, but instead slap pass it into the slot for Point to put behind an over committing Bobrovsky.
The Canes had the third most minor penalties in the first round behind Tampa and Florida, so they’ll want to stay out of the box.The other big point of impact is on Brayden Point. Point on his own is an incredibly talented player. He’s one of the fastest players in the league, he has elite hockey IQ, great hands, and a good shot, which he mostly uses from the slot in. With just him and Ondrej Palat trying to carry the load on the first line with rotating cast of right wingers during Kucherov’s absence, Point’s play and production wasn’t up to his normal high standard during the regular season. Having Kucherov back on his right wing completely elevates him into the elite territory.
Having two players that are as smart as they are, that read off each other and understand the game at the same speed and level as those two, creates so many options for what they can do on the ice. It also creates more space for both of them to work since opposing players can’t key in on one of them, because the other, combined with Palat, can make you pay with the space that you’ve given him.
JustinG.: Geo touched on the Kucherov effect so I’ll handle the Stamkos one. The Stamkos one-timer on the power play is unreal. It’s Ovechkinian in its accuracy so that spreads things out during the special teams play. At even strength, his inclusion in the line-up gives Coach Cooper a true 1A and 1B option in regards to lines. The Palat/Point/Kucherov line is just as effective as the Stamkos/Cirelli/Killorn one and it makes match-ups pretty hard. Then when Cooper decides to go 11-forwards/7-defensemen, which he will at some point in the series, he can throw out any of those top-six forwards with the fourth line to give them a little more ice time.
3. Beyond the usual suspects, who are some under the radar players Canes fans should have their eyes on in this series?
Hardev: Not sure if Anthony Cirelli at 2C is a usual suspect, but he led the team in chances at 5v5. He’s an incredibly good two-way player and playmaker for Stamkos at even strength. They had terrible shooting luck in the regular season but they’ve come alive in the playoffs; Cirelli, Stamkos, and their linemate Alex Killorn combined for six goals at even strength.The Lightning third line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Ross Colton has by far been the team’s best possession line in the regular season and playoffs so far. They eat up minutes against good competition (Coleman and Gourde against top lines especially) and combined for five goals against Florida. Ross Colton is the third musketeer that replaced the injured Barclay Goodrow, who made his return in Game 6, pushing Colton to the fourth line.
Justin G.: Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev get all of the press on the blueline, but Ryan McDonagh was the defensive MVP in the first round for them. He does all of the old-school hockey things that mainstream media folks like (block shots, hit people, etc) but also has an underrated knack for offense. He had a great sense of knowing when to step up at the blueline and pick off passes to help transition from defense to offense. His analytical numbers may have looked like garbage in the first round at even strength (39.01 CF%, 41.22% xGF%) but that was more due to how Florida’s approach was than anything else - shoot the puck from everywhere.
McDonagh had the most minutes played by any Lightning blueliner at even strength and usually matched up against the toughest competition.
4. What do the Lightning need to do to knock out the Hurricanes?
Geo: The Lightning struggled with puck possession for much of the series against the Panthers. The Hurricanes have been one of the better puck possession teams in the NHL under Rod Brind’Amour. The Lightning finally started to right the ship during game six against the Panthers. Maybe it was partly Stamkos and Kucherov knocking the rust off or just getting things into gear for the playoffs, but they’re going to need to play like they did in that game to make it out of the second round.
The Lightning have a lot of shooting talent, and they rode that against leaky Panthers goaltending in the first four games before they put in Spencer Knight. Nedeljkovic will certainly be a bigger factor than Bobrovsky or Driedger were and the Lightning will need to challenge him early and often to get pucks past him. Ultimately with as much talent as there is on both sides of the ice, this is a series that could very much come down to which goaltender puts in the best performance; the newcomer that had an outstanding season or the veteran that’s been here before and also had an outstanding season.
JustinG: Win more games? Seriously, they’re going to need to get the puck out of their own zone cleanly in order to attack the Carolina defense with speed. If they can push the defense back that will give them space to work their high-low offense and get shots from the point where they like them. Expect a lot of drop passes and forwards curling back once they enter the zone.
5. What’s your prediction for this series?
JustinG: It appears my fellow Raw Chargers left me to answer this one on my own. I’m going with the Lightning in 7.
Drop the Twitter handles of your staff at Raw Charge for Canes fans looking for Lightning follows for this series:
Just @RawCharge - Geo does most of the game day tweeting (if there are GIF’s that would mean I’m tweeting). If you want Lightning and Maple Leafs tweets follow Hardev at @HardevLad