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Lightning don't mess with success prior to Trade Deadline

Top team in NHL stands pat, ready to contend for Stanley Cup

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

Several Stanley Cup contenders improved before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, but the Tampa Bay Lightning didn't.

Because they didn't think they could.

"Ultimately, I didn't find anything that I could say, 'Yeah, this makes us a better team. That makes sense. That brings us closer to winning a Stanley Cup,'" general manager Julien BriseBois said. "It wasn't there."

Why mess with success?

 

[RELATED: 2018-19 NHL Trade Tracker]

 

In an NHL with a salary cap and parity, Tampa Bay is running away with the Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team.

After the trade deadline passed Monday at 3 p.m. ET, the Lightning defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout at Amalie Arena for their ninth straight victory to extend their point streak to 13 games (11-0-2).

With 100 points, they have 15 more than anyone else and are on pace for 130, which would be third most in history and two short of the record held by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.

They rank first in goals (3.84 per game), on the power play (29.7 percent) and in penalty killing (85.7). They are tied for fourth in goals against (2.62 per game).

Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 101 points (30 goals, 71 assists), eight more than anyone else. The Lightning have two others in the top 10 in scoring: Brayden Point, tied for sixth with 79 points (36 goals, 43 assists), and Steven Stamkos, tied for ninth with 75 (33, 42). Scoring depth? They have nine players with double-digit goals.

Their defense is led by the reigning winner of the Norris Trophy, Victor Hedman, and their No. 1 goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season. He is 28-7-4 with a 2.26 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and six shutouts.

Could the Lightning have used some snarl? A right-handed defenseman? Maybe. But they were already 14 deep up front and seven deep on the back end. 

"We all feel like we have a special group this year, and as we got closer and closer to the deadline, I'm thinking I need something that will make us substantially better," BriseBois said. "I can vouch, 'For sure this makes us a better team. We're closer to the Stanley Cup after this trade than before that trade.'

"And as we got closer and closer to the deadline, our team kept playing better and better. … Good players were available. We have good players sitting out already -- at forward, [on defense]. We have extra centers. We have a good balance (of) left-shot, right-shot defensemen. Now I'm bringing someone in which I'm saying, 'Well, I'm deeper. I'm not sure I'm better.'"

Video: Notable deadline deals dealt by Stanley Cup Champions

Why upset the chemistry when the lines and pairs are set, roles are defined, everyone has bought in, and the team is rolling?

"I hope I sent them the same message they've been sending me: calm, confident," BriseBois said. "We have a very good team. We have faith in the players we have there. We have, I think, answers for whatever our opponents will throw at us."

That does not mean Tampa Bay is invincible. Since the NHL introduced the salary cap in 2005-06, the winners of the Presidents' Trophy have won the Stanley Cup twice in 13 seasons. Six times, teams who finished sixth or lower in the League standings have won the Cup.

It's a wide-open field. Look at all the teams that made significant additions the past month.

But the Lightning know that.

"This won't be easy," BriseBois said. "There are a lot of good teams out there, and ultimately to win a championship it's very hard and it's very uncomfortable."

This core has gone deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs three of the past four seasons, losing in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018.

Last season, the Lightning lost to the Washington Capitals, who defeated the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, advanced to the conference final for the first time since 1998 and went all the way.

"It just felt like once they got over that hump and beat Pittsburgh that they could feel that it was their time, and we saw that," Stamkos said. "We feel inside our group that this is our year.

"And obviously it's easier said than done, but we've set ourselves up with the start that we've had throughout the first half of the season to be in good shape come playoff time, and that's when we want to peak."

Six weeks to go.

"I think the group that's in that locker room right now, they've pretty much checked every box we could have asked for," BriseBois said. "Again, there's a lot of good teams out there over the last few weeks, and it's not going to be easy, but I have faith we have what it takes."

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