This is why there is nothing like the NHL playoffs. A couple of months ago, nobody thought that the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to do anything this year. In fact, there was a time where everyone thought they wouldn't even make the playoffs. Now, they look unstoppable. The same can be said for the Tampa Bay Lightning. When Stamkos went down with blood clots, most people wrote the Lightning off. Now, they are back in the Eastern Conference Finals with another shot at the Stanley Cup.
With the news today that Stamkos is skating in warmups with a regular jersey rather than a no-contact jersey, the Lightning must be liking their chances. If Stamkos is able to come back early in this series, it would obviously be huge for Tampa Bay. It almost feels like the Lightning need Stamkos in this series, even though they have survived the two previous. The Pittsburgh Penguins are on another level right now but they haven't faced a team that can match up with them in terms of speed. The Lightning absolutely can skate with the Penguins, unlike the Washington Capitals, though to be fair it is difficult to skate and crap your pants at the same time.
The Penguins have incredible offensive talent in Malkin, Crosby and Kessel. Their defense has worried me in the past but that has vastly improved. Twenty-one goaltender Matt Murray has been the story of the NHL playoffs so far. Not only has he played outstanding, he has allowed the Penguins' organization to stop relying on Marc Andre Fleury, something that will benefit them greatly. Fleury is either outstanding or a complete mess in the playoffs. Murray has been consistent, when a team scores on him it is because they earned it. There haven't been soft goals allowed that complete deflate the crowd and his teammates. Ben Bishop for the Lightning has also been outstanding.
Both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals are interesting to me because I honestly didn't believe any of the four teams would make it. The San Jose Sharks were supposed to be in a rebuilding year, instead they are showing established teams like the LA Kings the door in the first round. The St. Louis Blues always choke in the playoffs, but this year they only eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. Half way through the season, the Penguins looked like a dead-ass team and the Lightning lost their best player because he had blot clots. The Blues/ Sharks series is set up to be a grueling match between two gritty teams and the Penguins/Lightning series has the potential to be one of the more entertaining up and down series we have seen in a long time.
Drop the puck!