Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs St. Louis Blues

Lightning forward Ondrej Palat (18) works the puck past Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55). (Photo courtesy: Jasen Vinlove, USA Today Sports)

ST. LOUIS, MO – The President’s Trophy winner for 2019 heads to Enterprise Center on Saturday night for the series finale between the Tampa Bay Lightning (58-13-4) and the St. Louis Blues (39-27-8). The Tampa Bay Lightning have been dominant in almost every single statistic this season, setting both franchise and NHL records. The Lightning have already clinched home-ice advantage for the entire Stanley Cup playoffs with eight games still left on the regular season. With the unstoppable Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point combining for an uncanny 297 points, the Lightning are the far-and-away favorite to go all the way in the playoffs this season.

Tampa Bay scored four unanswered goals in the third period to get a win over the Hurricanes on Thursday right after getting an OT win against the Capitals. The Lightning have lost in back-to-back games only twice this season, one of those coming in a 1-0 OT loss against the Blues. The Bolts have been shut out only twice this season, which is a noticeable stat from the no. 1 goals-for team. The Lightning have won seven in a row while the Blues have points in their last four games, going 5-3-2. The Blues win over Detroit put them four points ahead of Dallas and four points behind Nashville, holding third in the Central Division. You can read the Detroit game recap here.

FAMILY MATTERS

Ivan Barbashev grabbed his first career hat trick on Thursday to lift the Blues to a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, the second hat trick in as many games for the Blues. Barbashev’s family was in attendance from Russia watching as he buried the empty-net goal in the final minute of the period.

“It feels great,” Barbashev said to the media after the game. “It’s their second game here [in St. Louis] watching me, it was unbelievable… it was a lot of fun to play out there.”

Alexander Steen assisted on two of Barbashev’s goals and reached career point no. 600. He joins his father Thomas Steen in reaching the 600-point plateau, scoring 475 of them with St. Louis. He is one of only four father-son duos to achieve the feat in NHL history, including “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe, former Blue Brett Hull and former teammate Paul Stastny. “It’s obviously cool names to be in there with, and to be in there with the Stastnys as well is pretty special,” Steen commented to Jim Thomas.

LIGHTNING STRIKES… A LOT

The Tampa Bay Lightning have sprinted past the league the entirety of the season. The Bolts have scoring machines like Nikita Kucherov (37-83-120) and Steven Stamkos (38-50-88), but their impressive depth scoring has contributed to their league-best 298 goals-for (the next best team has 263). That turns into a 3.94 average Goals per Game. The Bolts have 11 (yes, eleven) forwards with over 30 points this season. Both goaltenders have put up impressive numbers: Andrei Vasilevskiy is 36-8-4 with a .930 save percentage and Louis Domingue is 20-5-0. The biggest help to the Lightning has also been their health: more than half their active roster has not missed more than ten games. The power play is at a lethal 29% while their penalty kill is a deafening 85.7%.

Is there anything or anyone that can stop the best team in the league this season? To continue with the number-crunching, per moneypuck.com, the Lightning are favored to make the Finals at 25.5% and win the cup at 15.2%. On the other side of the coin, the Lightning have only gone beyond the first round in six of their ten playoff appearances. The Lightning won the cup back in 2004 and have only made it to the Final one time since (2015, lost to Chicago). Despite all this, the buy-in on the roster to go all the way seems stronger than ever, with some of the greatest, consistent scorers and goaltending the league has seen in years. Oh, and your odds of being struck by lightning is 1 in 3,000, just for fun.

ALL HANDS ON DECK

With a rocky start to the season riddled with injuries, poor defense, and an overall lack of confidence, the Blues have hit their stride at precisely the right moment. David Perron has returned in stellar fashion after missing 24 games with a concussion, putting up three goals and six points in four games. He has found great chemistry with Oskar Sundqvist and Jaden Schwartz; the trio has put up 11 points in just two games against Edmonton and Detroit. Pat Maroon is playing the best hockey of his career; the “Big Rig” now has four goals in four games, nearly doubling his entire season goal total (9-15-24).

Though the top line of Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, and Vladimir Tarasenko only have three points in their last five games, the Blues are 21-4-1 since Jan. 1st with the top line intact (without all three: 3-5-3). O’Reilly is having a career debut season with the Blues, just two goals away from having career-bests in all three stats (26-43-69). Tarasenko is also two goals away from his fifth straight 30+ goal season in his 7th year in the NHL. While anyone could tell you that your best players need to be your best players in the postseason, the depth forwards have found their stride on the stat sheet now that players are healthy. If the Blues can get the physical presence of Joel Edmundson back by playoff time, they could turn out to be a formidable opponent, despite having one of their worst openings to the season in franchise history.

GAME TIME

The St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning face off at Enterprise Center at 8 pm ET. Broadcasts of the game are provided by:

STL: FSMW, KMOX 1120, NHL.tv
TBL: SunS, WFLA 970, NHL.tv

PROJECTED LINEUPS

ST. LOUIS

FORWARDS:

10 Schenn – 90 O’Reilly – 91 Tarasenko
57 Perron – 70 Sundqvist – 17 Schwartz
7 Maroon – 21 Bozak – 18 Thomas
20 Steen – 49 Barbashev – 12 Sanford

DEFENSE:

27 Pietrangelo – 29 Dunn
55 Parayko – 19 Bouwmeester
41 Bortuzzo – 42 Del Zotto

IN GOAL:
50 Binnington

TAMPA BAY

FORWARDS:

9 Johnson – 21 Point – 86 Kucherov
18 Palat – 91 Stamkos – Miller
17 Killorn – 71 Cirelli – 7 Joseph
73 Erne – 13 Paquette – 37 Gourde

DEFENSE:

77 Herman – 98 Sergachev
27 McDonagh – 81 Cernak
44 Rutta – 55 Coburn

IN GOAL:
88 Vasilevskiy

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