On Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning played their 10th game of the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 6-4 to extend their series lead to 3-1. So far this postseason, the Lightning’s success has been fueled by contributions across the entirety of their lineup. Head coach Jon Cooper said it best when, in reference to Barclay Goodrow, he stated:
“You can’t have all Ferraris. Sometimes you need a good old-fashioned four-wheel-drive Jeep to get you through the mud.”
from ‘Lightning’s Goodrow proving his value to Stanley Cup champs,’ Journal Review, 06/04/2021
Although this is true, the Lightning’s stars have shined bright. Let’s take a look at the Lightning’s top performers through the first 10 games. Oh, and to make it interesting, I will pair each player with a vehicle I think they identify most closely with.
5. Steven Stamkos
After seeing Steven Stamkos play just 2:47 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is refreshing to see him healthy this time around. The Lightning captain has had a huge impact – in 10 games, he has recorded five goals and eight assists. His 13 points are good for second on the team. Eight of those points were tallied on the power play.
Stamkos is a tremendous leader on and off the ice. He brings an energy to the Lightning that few players can, and the club has looked completely different since he returned from injury. The veteran forward of 13 seasons is well-known for his speed, toughness, and his ability to be clutch in big moments. All in all, I think he equates to a Corvette.
4. Victor Hedman
After hitting a rough patch to finish the regular season, Victor Hedman has found his rhythm again in his last 10 games. He has flashed his Norris Trophy capabilities at both ends of the ice. In particular, he has been dominant on the power play, as 9 of his 11 assists have come with a man advantage. Among Lightning defensemen, he is first in average time on ice, at 24:40, first in shots, with 25, and second in blocked shots, with 21.
The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner is one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, if not the best. It only makes sense to compare him to a Range Rover, a vehicle that can be driven on the highway but is also capable of off-roading. Hedman’s versatility is truly remarkable – one moment, he’s blocking shots on defense, and the next, he’s getting forward to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
3. Ryan McDonagh
Ryan McDonagh has been arguably the best defenseman for the Lightning this postseason. He has tallied four assists and averaged 22:36 of ice time. He leads Lightning defensemen in plus/minus rating, at plus-8, and blocked shots, with 22. No, you won’t find him on the scoresheet too often, but he has really shined in the defensive zone. When speaking about McDonagh after Game 2 of the first round, Cooper said,
“He’s been a stud; there’s no way around it…It all starts in the D-zone; he’s a selfless player and sacrifices his body all the time. He’s a Stanley Cup champion and been in the league a long time. He’s a warrior and fearless teammate…”
McDonagh has been a rock for the Lightning, especially on the penalty kill. The 31-year-old American defenseman is as tough and reliable as they come. That is why it only makes sense that his vehicle comparison is “Built Ford Tough” – the Ford F-150.
2. Nikita Kucherov
After missing the entirety of the 2020-21 regular season, I thought that Nikita Kucherov would need several games to get back up to speed. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In his first game back, he scored two goals and an assist. He hasn’t looked back, being kept off of the scoresheet just twice this postseason.
The Lightning franchise leader in playoff points also currently leads the NHL in playoff points with 17. He is tied for fifth in goals, with five, and is first in assists, with 12. The Lightning have been lethal on the power play and he is a huge reason why – of his points, he has tallied 12 of them with a man advantage.
Kucherov is one of the best goalscorers in the league. His style of play keeps fans’ eyes glued to him while he is on the ice. His acceleration, flashy puck handling, and creativity make him a force to be reckoned with. If he were a car, as my colleague Kyle Knopp jokingly put it, he would be the kind that you only take out in the summer. So, he must be a Lamborghini.
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy
Andrei Vasilevskiy had another phenomenal regular season and it is no surprise he has carried that over into the playoffs. He has been the Lightning’s most valuable player this season and he continues to stand on his head. Wins are not a goalie stat, but you could certainly make the case that Vasilevskiy has stolen several victories for the Bolts. Overall, he has seven wins, a 2.46 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage, and one shutout through 10 playoff games.
On Saturday, Vasilevskiy recorded his 40th career playoff win. The 26-year-old backstop now has the most playoff wins among Russian-born goaltenders, passing former Lightning netminder Nikolai Khabibulin.
Vasilevskiy is the “Big Cat”. Thus, his vehicle equivalent is a Jaguar. It is as simple as that.
The Lightning continue their quest for their second straight Stanley Cup on Monday as they take on the Hurricanes at PNC Arena. They’ll look to win their third straight game in Raleigh as they try to close out the series and advance to Round 3.
Andrew is a freelance writer who covers the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Hockey Writers. He is a passionate hockey fan who grew up near Tampa, Florida. He is a father to a Golden Retriever and is studying to be a Physician Assistant. Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Mulville