The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here, and the road to the championship is not going to be easy, even for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the runaway winner of the Presidents' Trophy.
Here are some key statistics to consider for the Eastern Conference First Round:
Special teams could determine Blue Jackets' chances
One reason the Tampa Bay Lightning were the best team in the NHL this season was their power play, which was ranked No. 1 (28.2 percent). Brayden Point, with 20, and Steven Stamkos, with 19, ranked first and second in the NHL in power-play goals, and Nikita Kucherov had an NHL-best 48 power-play points, including 15 goals (tied for eighth).
The Columbus Blue Jackets might be able to slow down that power play in the Eastern Conference First Round. Columbus had the best penalty kill in the League after the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 (89.7 percent). For the season, it was tied for first with the Lightning and Arizona Coyotes for (85.0 percent).
The Blue Jackets allowed an NHL-low 30 power-play goals, making for a compelling matchup against the Lightning, who were first with 74 man-advantage goals. Tampa Bay is so good, winning the special-teams battle won't assure Columbus of victory, but if it can't limit the Lightning power play, it will be a more difficult uphill climb.
Video: Previewing Columbus vs. Tampa Bay First Round matchup
Playing with lead critical for Blue Jackets
Columbus is not a good come-from-behind team, especially if it's trailing entering the third period.
Yes, Columbus clinched a playoff berth when it rallied for a 3-2 shootout win against the New York Rangers in its penultimate game, but it was the second time it won this season when trailing entering the third. Their .077 winning percentage (2-23-1) in that situation was the fourth worst in the NHL.
The Lightning were the best when trailing entering the third. No other team was close to their .429 winning percentage (9-12-0). The Calgary Flames, the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, were second at .242 (8-22-3).
Face-off battle between Bergeron, Tavares will be intriguing part of Bruins-Maple Leafs series
No team in the playoffs won more face-offs this season than the Toronto Maple Leafs, who won 2,629 of 4,959 (53.0 percent). Against the Boston Bruins (50.7 percent), the ability to win more draws will be a huge advantage because it will deny the Bruins possession, which is one of their strengths.
The battle between John Tavares of the Maple Leafs and Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins will be especially intriguing. Tavares took 1,528 faceoffs, 11th most in the NHL and 617 more than any other Toronto player. He won 54.4 percent. Bergeron won 56.6 percent of his 1,389 face-offs. It is likely Tavares and Bergeron will be matched up for most big draws in this series, and with Tavares a left shot and Bergeron a right shot, each will be on his strong side at the same time.
Video: Previewing the Leafs vs. Bruins First Round matchup
Hurricanes must make most of shots against Capitals
The Carolina Hurricanes had a shot attempts percentage (SAT%) of 54.81 percent during 5-on-5 play, which ranked second in the NHL to the San Jose Sharks (54.87 percent). That has been Carolina's underlying strength in the recent past. Since the start of 2016-17, the Hurricanes have an SAT% of 53.55 percent, second behind the Bruins (53.82 percent). But in those three seasons, the Hurricanes' combined shooting and save percentage at 5-on-5 was 986, which ranked last in the NHL.
Their first-round opponent, the Washington Capitals, lead the NHL in shooting percentage (9.5 percent) and combined shooting and save percentage (1022) over the past three seasons.
The Hurricanes improved in those areas in the latter part of this season, with a combined shooting and save percentage of 1013 after Jan. 1, seventh best in the NHL in that span, and they needed that surge to reach the postseason as the second wild card from the East. The question is whether Carolina can continue its relatively newfound improvement in shooting and save percentages into the series against Washington.
Video: Previewing the Hurricanes-Capitals First Round series
Islanders need to dictate pace of play against Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins averaged 33.3 shots on goal per game this season, fifth most in the NHL. The New York Islanders averaged 28.8 shots on goal, lowest among playoff teams and tied for 29th in the NHL.
The Islanders, who ranked second among NHL playoff teams in blocked shots (1,295), behind the Colorado Avalanche (1,324), prefer low-event hockey. It makes sense as a strategy against the Penguins because it's difficult to trade chances with a team that had four players with at least 70 points this season: Sidney Crosby (100), Phil Kessel (82), Jake Guentzel (76) and Evgeni Malkin (72).
The Islanders also had the lowest SAT% (47.85 percent) among playoff teams, so if that trend continues, they may need to get bailed out by their goalies, Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, who combined to allow an NHL-low 180 goals and had 11 shutouts.
Video: Previewing the Islanders-Penguins First Round matchup