On January 28th, Tampa will host the NHL All-Star Game for a second time after having featured the event back in 1999. With the Tampa Bay Lightning currently atop NHL standings, a league-leading four players from the team have been chosen to take part in the festivities.
Nikita Kucherov, who leads the league in goals and points, will be joined by linemate and Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, defenseman Victor Hedman, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Only one other team, the Los Angeles Kings, had even three players selected as All-Stars.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper will be behind the bench at the All-Star Game for the Atlantic Division team.
Lightning fans have the good fortune of Tampa getting to host All-Star Weekend during a season in which their team is absolutely dominating the competition. With a stellar record of 31-9-3, Tampa Bay is comfortably ahead of all other Atlantic Division squads, and even has considerable breathing room in the Eastern Conference and in the NHL as a whole. The Lightning lead the league in goals scored as well as in scoring differential. In addition to the team’s otherworldly offense led by Stamkos and Kucherov, Vasilevskiy is leading all netminders with six shutouts.
Tampa Bay has designs on greatness beyond just the All-Start Game this year. After losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, the Lightning made a deep playoff run again in 2016 when they lost in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins who went on to hoist the Stanley Cup. Due in large part to injuries to Stamkos, Tampa Bay narrowly missed the playoffs in 2017. If the Lightning can maintain its current winning pace, the team will be able to count on home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs this spring.
The All-Star Game will look different to Tampa residents who last attended in 1999. It is now a three-on-three single-elimination tournament made up of three 20-minute games. In each of the two semi-final games, All-Stars from two divisions face off. The winning divisions from those two games then meet in the final match. Instead of having standard overtime, tied games go directly into a shootout round.