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Why They Will Win

Why Lightning will win Stanley Cup

No Stamkos and Stralman, no problem for battle-tested Tampa

by Mike G. Morreale @MikeMorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

The Tampa Bay Lightning have come too far and battled too hard to suddenly raise the white flag after injuries to two of their most important players.

Make no mistake, while coach Jon Cooper realizes filling out a lineup card without center Steven Stamkos (surgery to repair blood clot) and defenseman Anton Stralman (fractured left fibula) isn't the greatest of scenarios to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he has all the confidence in the depth and character of those healthy players on the roster.

Players never want to use injuries as an excuse for anything, and the Lightning won't here.

After losing the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games last June, the Lightning still have the swagger, determination and temperament to deliver the Stanley Cup this season.

Cooper believes the mindset of the Lightning should be one shift at a time, one game at a time for as long as it takes for Stamkos and Stralman to hopefully return and finish the season they helped make so special.

The Lightning enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs with one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL in Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy, still have the 'Triplets' line of Tyler Johnson centering Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, and they have Cooper, a coach who didn't panic when injuries dropped the Lightning to sixth place in the Atlantic Division at the Christmas break.

The one alteration made by Cooper that will ultimately pay dividends in their championship run was his insistence his players pay a greater attention to defensive detail. The Lightning rank among the top five in the League in goals-against average; they ranked 12th in 2014-15.

When the Lightning play to their system, there isn't a lot of room for the opponent to maneuver. That's the type of game plan Cooper will need to employ as he juggles lines to find the right combinations. When offense is needed, there is firepower throughout.

There were seven forwards other than Stamkos with 10 or more goals this season, including Kucherov, who finished first in points and second in goals on the Lightning.

Video: NYI@TBL: Kucherov tips home feed from Killorn

The key to the championship will be Bishop, who should be considered a 2016 Vezina Trophy candidate. He has, on occasion, covered for some letdowns, and he'll continue to do so in the playoffs.

The postseason pressure couldn't derail Bishop last season; he finished with a 2.18 GAA, .921 save percentage and three shutouts.

Shouldering much of the defensive load in the absence of Stralman will be Victor Hedman. Last spring, he had 13 assists, 14 points, and a plus-11 rating in 26 games, leading the Lightning in average ice time (23:58).

Stralman could return at some point during the Eastern Conference Second Round or Eastern Conference Final. Stamkos, who will be evaluated in two weeks, is out at least a month, but could be absent for much longer.

With or without their injured stars, the Lightning will prove their mettle on the big stage and finish the job this season.

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