Unlike other years, the NHL has a clear favourite to win the Stanley Cup, as of the All-Star break.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have the best record (37-10-2), the most wins in regulation (34), the best home record (20-5), the best road record (17-5-2), the most goals (199 in just 49 games) and the best goal differential (+59).

The Lightning lineup includes scoring leader Nikita Kucherov (78 points in 49 games), sniper Brayden Point (second in goals with 30), forward Steven Stamkos (15th in points with 57),  a well-rounded defence led by Victor Hedman (33 points in 42 games) and an ace goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (third in save percent at .925).

The fortunate head coach of this team is Jon Cooper.

The 51-year-old Cooper, who was born and raised in Prince George, is in his sixth full season as the Lightning bench boss.

Tampa has had success before under Cooper, losing in the Stanley Cup Final (2014-15) and losing twice in the Eastern Conference Final (2015-16 and 2017-18).

Including this season’s 37-10-2 mark, Cooper has an eye-popping regular season record of 280-153-42.

In August of 2018, Brett Connolly brought Lord Stanley’s Mug to his hometown to share the Cup with thousands of Prince George residents.

If Tampa wins the Cup, will Cooper do the same this summer?

Of course, NHL championships are not determined in January, but the Lightning have established themselves as the team to beat, although they may careful before wanting to take the Presidents’ Trophy (team that ends up with the most regular-season points).

Since 2002-03, the Presidents’ Trophy winner has only captured the Stanley Cup twice in 15 seasons (Chicago in 2012-13 and Detroit in 2007-08).

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In the media, we are always looking for story lines.

Some scripts, almost magically write themselves.

Two years ago, the Prince George Cougars gambled and decided to “go for it”.

As part of short-term thinking, among the Cougars trades to “load up” for the 2016-17 season, they dealt Justin Almeida to the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Almeida has blossomed into a WHL star and returned to his home province by showing the Cougars what they are missing.

Prior to Tuesday’s game in Prince George, Almeida was named the league’s Player of the Week (eight points in four games).

Then, for good measure, he added to his achievements against the Cougars.

The 19-year-old from Kitimat scored the winner, 30 seconds into overtime, and added an assist to help the Warriors erase a 2-0 deficit and win 3-2.

Almeida could not help but have a huge grin on his face when he met the media after the game.

“I was looking forward to it a lot more. I have friends on the team and you want to show them what they are missing and so every time you play an old team you want to perform well. I wanted to score tonight and I couldn’t have done it any better.”

The Almeida trade, which brought underachieving Nikita Popugaev to Prince George, is one example of why Cougars first-year general manager Mark Lamb has stated the team won’t be buyers again at the trade deadline, if the price means giving up a valuable asset that will impact the future.

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This is Week 17 of ‘Hartley’s Cat Scan.’

The podcast, introduced in September, predominately features the Prince George Cougars.

My guest this week is Ronald Petrovicky, who was a star for the Cougars in the 1990s before going on to a successful career in the NHL.

You can also find this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, and TuneIn.


FROM THE QUOTE RACK:

The Edmonton Oilers fired GM Peter Chiarelli in the middle of a game. Even Jiffy Lube can’t always guarantee a 30 minute Oiler change.

*Comedy writer Jim Barach http://jokesbyjim.blogspot.ca/

More people in Los Angeles watched the Chiefs-Patriots game than the Rams-Saints. Hope the Super Bowl doesn’t conflict with a Lakers game.

*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com

No pro hockey (NHL) or football this weekend? Like living in Phoenix I guess.

*Comedy writer Tony Chong

U.S. President Trump welcomed the National Champion Clemson Tigers to the White House with a fast food feast. You can bet it wasn’t Taco Bell.

*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California

President Trump was going to get Taco Bell but found out that Mexico wouldn’t pay for it.

*Jim DeBow on Twitter

On Jan. 26, the Wiarton & District Curling Club in Ontario will host Canada’s first-tournament that combines curling and cannabis. And of course they’re calling it … Bongspiel.

*Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times http://www.seattletimes.com/author/dwight-perry/

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The top three girl-power curling movies:
3. Brush, brush sweet Charlotte;
2. Erin Rockovich;
1. Kiss of the slider woman

*Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com

 

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Hartley Miller is the sports director and morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT.
He also is the 94.3 radio colour commentator for P.G. Cougars home games.
His column appears Fridays on myprincegeorgenow.com.
Send along a quote, note, or anecdote to hmiller@thegoatrocks.ca.
Follow him on Twitter: @Hartley_Miller
Listen to him on his weekly podcast: Hartley’s Cat Scan.