Warm Weather Pucks: Alive, Well, and Surging
The Original Six may be cringing, but take a look at where the sun shines more often than not.
It could well be sun, sandals, and Stanley Cup finals in a couple of months.
Tampa Bay was a Stanley Cup finalist last year and has finally gone on a roll this time around. This weekend, the Lightning have wrested first place in the Atlantic Division from the no-longer-surprising Florida Panthers, but this is a lime-&-salt rimmed battle that will extend well past Spring Break.
The Panther's story has been a great one so far. 43-year-old Jaromír Jágr is their leading scorer with 21 goals and 43 points, and he may never retire. Dude's gotten plenty of help form Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith, and resurgent 36-year old goalie Roberto Luongo.
On the Gulf Coast, the 'Ning has survived the Steven Stamkos contract distraction and injuries to finally realize their pre-season expectations. The two teams meet only one more time this season.
Over in the Golden State, Anaheim has gone a mind-blowing 18-1-1 since Wed 20 Jan.
The Ducks, who contemplated firing coach Bruce Boudreau early in the season, are now playing like the team that was one win away from the Stanley Cup finals last year.
And on Sat 5 Mar, their team-record 11th straight victory vaulted them into the Pacific's penthouse, displacing their uptown rivals.
These two clubs have a much edgier history than their Florida counterparts, and it shows every chance one or both of them get:
Ryan Getzlaf has only nine goals but has compiled 42 assists for a team leading 51 points. Corey Perry leads the Ducks with 28 goals, while the goaltending tandem of John Gibson and Frederik Anderson is second to none.
The Kings -- 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champions -- are back in the mix after a year out of the playoffs. Anze Kopitar leads Los Angeles with 54 points, while Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter are having solid years. The Kings also have one of the best playoff goalies in Jonathan Quick.
Should they meet Anaheim in the playoffs -- and that's looking all but certain -- Quick had best be in top form.