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Five reasons Lightning clinched playoff berth

by Adam Kimelman

The Tampa Bay Lightning showed last season they were more than superstar Steven Stamkos. Despite Stamkos missing four months because of a broken leg, the Lightning finished second in the Atlantic Division.

The players who stepped up in Stamkos' absence have maintained their high level of play or improved in 2014-15, and Stamkos has returned as one of the NHL's top scorers.

It's why the Lightning have reached the 100-point mark and clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season. Tampa Bay still has a chance at winning its first division title since 2004, when the Lightning won the Southeast Division on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

Here are five reasons the Lightning clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

1. The Triplets

Stamkos gets the headlines, but the Lightning's most productive line this season has been Tyler Johnson centering Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

Kucherov was added to the right side of Johnson and Palat for an Oct. 24 game against the Winnipeg Jets, and since then no line has produced more at even strength with 98 points, according to

As a point of comparison, the Lightning's next most productive even-strength line is Stamkos between Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn, with 40 points.

Johnson ranks second on the Lightning with 67 points, and he's third with 26 goals; Kucherov is second with 28 goals and third with 60 points. Palat, who missed three games in March because of a lower-body injury, is fourth with 58 points. And those offensive contributions come despite starting a good portion of their shifts in the defensive zone; Johnson is seventh among Lightning forwards with 54.8 percent of his shifts coming in the offensive zone, and Palat is sixth at 56.2 percent, according to

In addition to their offensive contributions, all three players have been outstanding defensively. They each have a plus-31 rating or higher, and Johnson and Palat are used as the Lightning's second forward pair on the penalty kill and averaged more than 1:44 per game shorthanded.

2. Stamkos being Stamkos

While the Johnson line has supplied an unexpected amount of offense, Stamkos has spent the season proving he is 100-percent healed from his leg injury.

His 40 goals are tied for second in the League and he's averaging 19:26 of ice time per game, the highest among Tampa Bay forwards.

Stamkos faces the toughest competition among Lightning forwards, according to's time on ice competition measurement. That allows the Johnson line more room to produce at a high level.

3. Giant play from goalies

Between Ben Bishop (6-foot-7) and rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy (6-foot-3), the Lightning have almost 13-feet worth of top-end puck-stoppers.

Bishop, in his second full season as the Lightning starter, is third in the League with 37 wins and has a 2.37 goals-against average. Vasilevskiy, a first-round pick (No. 19) in the 2012 NHL Draft, is 7-4-1 with a 2.30 GAA in 15 games.

The Lightning are allowing 2.54 goals per game, but if you remove the production of Evgeni Nabokov, who was placed on waivers Feb. 1, that number drops to 2.35. And since the Lightning went exclusively with the Bishop and Vasilevskiy in goal, they are 15-8-3.

4. Outstanding even-strength play

The Lightning are among the best teams in the League at 5-on-5; they're in the top three in the League in shot-attempts percentage (SAT%), and SAT% in close games. They also have the highest team shooting percentage at 5-on-5.

They have four of the top-18 even-strength scorers in the League in Johnson, Palat, Kucherov and Stamkos; no other team has more than two.

The Lightning lead the NHL with 178 5-on-5 goals. With a power play that ranks in the middle of the League, their even-strength play has helped carry them to the postseason.

5. Anton Stralman

The defenseman is lauded for his puck-possession ability, and his signing with the Lighting this summer has proven to be one of the best of the offseason.

Stralman leads Lightning defensemen who have played more than 30 games in SAT% and is third among NHL defensemen.

He's helped Tampa Bay improve from 11th in the League in SAT% last season to third this season, and improve by more than 2.5 percentage points. Increased possession has helped the Lightning go from ninth in goals per game last season to first.


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