Two teams with Stanley Cup aspirations collide on Saturday as the Vegas Golden Knights (16-13-0 at home) host Tampa Bay Lightning (14-12-1 on the road) at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights have been on a ruthless pursuit to win the Stanley Cup after they came so close in their inaugural NHL season of 2017/18, going all the way to the Final and they are +1400 to be crowned champions this season.
Tampa Bay have made the Stanley Cup Final in each of the last three seasons and they are +650 to win the Eastern Conference again and make a fourth straight appearance.
|Tampa Bay Lightning @ Vegas Golden Knights
|T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
|10:30pm, Saturday February 18th
|How to watch:
|Tampa Bay Lightning -125, Vegas Golden Knights +105
The Lightning won the Cup back-to-back in 2020 and 2021 before their three-peat dream was ended by Colorado Avalanche last season.
Third in the Atlantic Division (35-16-3), the Lightning are +1200 to retain the championship this season.
Vegas lead the Pacific Division with a 33-18-4 record and they are +175 to finish top with strong competition from Seattle Kraken (+320), Edmonton Oilers (+360) and Los Angeles Kings (+333) who are all within three points of each other.
After missing out on the playoffs for the first time in their short history last season, the Golden Knights have bounced back well under new coach Bruce Cassidy.
Cassidy led the Boston Bruins to six straight playoff appearances before moving to Vegas in the recent off-season and, despite being hampered by injuries again, the Golden Knights have refused to let that derail their season for a second time.
With number-one goalie Robin Lehner ruled out for the entirety of the campaign before a puck was even dropped, Logan Thompson has risen to the challenge and posted a 20-13-3 record with a .914 save percentage and 2.66 goals against average.
+2200 to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, 25-year-old Thompson has also now suffered injury and will miss the meeting with Tampa Bay due to a lower-body injury.
With Thompson listed as week to week, Aidan Hill has come in and performed admirably to record three wins in a row, taking Vegas' total current streak to four.
The Golden Knights will also be without Captain Mark Stone who has been ruled out until playoff time at least with a back injury. The 30-year-old ranks joint-second on the team for goals with 17 and third for points with 38.
While a major blow, the Golden Knights have shown they can deal with his absence with the likes of Chandler Stephenson (12 goals, 36 assists), Jack Eichel (17 goals, 22 assists), Reilly Smith (19 goals, 17 assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (15 goals, 19 assists) continuing to produce regularly.
Vegas have also enjoyed contribution from defense with Alex Pietrangelo (seven goals, 26 assists) and Shea Theodore (five goals, 21 assists) helping them average 3.20 goals per game (15th in the NHL).
The pair, along with Thompson and Hill (13-5-1, with a .912 save percentage) have also played a key role in Vegas' respectable defensive record, allowing 2.76 goals per game (10th).
Almost certain to finish second and third in the Atlantic Division, the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs are set to meet in the first round of the playoffs for a second season running.
By beating several major playoff contenders in the past 10 games (6-2-2), the Lightning have thrown down the gauntlet to the rest of the league, proving once again that their best comes out at the most important time of the year.
Wins have come over the league leading Boston Bruins, Central Division topping Dallas Stars and most satisfyingly of all, twice over their conquers in last season's Final Colorado Avalanche.
Most recently, though, the Lightning were beaten 1-0 in overtime by the lowly Arizona Coyotes and the defeat will particularly sting after Coyote's Connor Ingram set an NHL record by a rookie by making 47 saves to record the shut-out.
The trouble scoring was unusual for Tampa who have averaged 3.50 goals per game (fifth) and have the fourth best powerplay in the league at 25.3%.
Nikita Kuchervov leads the Lightning with 78 points (21 goals, 57 assists) and makes him +2500 to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the regular season's most valuable player.
Brayden Point sits top of the goal scoring chart with 32 from 54 games but up and down their line-up the Lightning possess a threat. That also comes from defense where Mikhail Sergachyov (seven goals, 29 assists) and Victor Hedman (four goals, 32 assists) are having stellar seasons.
Given the Lightning's proven ability to quickly bounce back from defeats over recent years, the Golden Knights must be wary, but they too have a great opportunity to show their credentials in what will serve as a playoff rehearsal in T-Mobile Arena.