The Tampa Bay Lightning (14-9-3, 31 points) make a brief stop at St. Pete Times Forum tonight before heading out on a three-game West coast road trip.
The Bolts have played just 10 of their first 26 games at home, but that doesn’t tell the story about how much travel the Lightning have had to endure recently. Only five of the previous 17 contests have been in Tampa Bay.
While the payoff for the Lightning will come in a late January – February stretch during an unheard of 12-game home stand, Tampa Bay is facing a crucial series of games over the next week.
After tonight, the Bolts will head to Calgary for a tilt on Tuesday night with the Flames, then Friday in Edmonton against the Oilers and Saturday in a game against the Canucks in Vancouver.
And while they’re still holding onto the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference and second in the Southeast Division, the red hot Atlanta Thrashers – winners of six of their last seven contests – are just two points Tampa Bay.
The Bolts are 6-2-1 in their last nine, but how the club responds to their last game is of the utmost concern.
Guy Boucher will have to get his troops mentally prepared after the 8-1 beatdown put on the Lightning by the Bruins Thursday nite in Boston.
And more specifically, it will be crucial how the goaltending will react after the drubbing. Mike Smith made two horrific errors in the game and worse yet, the mistakes came at very bad times. They could both be termed back-breakers.
Late in the first period, Smith had made a spectacular save on Mark Recchi from point blank range to keep the score 1-0, but proceeded to give one right back.
Dennis Seidenberg skated up the right wing boards with the puck and wound up as if to dump it into the Tampa Bay zone. Smith anticipated the move and as he started straying from his crease to the corner to cut off the wraparound, Seidenberg ripped a shot in the direction of the far side post. Smith realized it a bit too late and despite his scramble to get back into the net, was beaten for an easy Bruins’ goal.
Instead of a one-goal deficit heading to the second, the Bolts were down 2-0 to one of the hottest netminders in the league, Tim Thomas.
The team kept the contest close until late in the second, pressuring the Bruin’s goal and getting one back from defenseman Victor Hedman to cut the Boston lead to 3-1. But Smith committed his second mistake that led directly to a Bruins’ goal. Smith’s giveaway while behind the net ended with a Shawn Thornton goal, and gave Boston a 4-1 lead heading into the third.
After that, it was all downhill for Tampa Bay. The team’s level of play dropped, as they made uncharacteristic mistakes and poor decisions with the puck.
The goaltending was sub-par, to be kind. Smith was pulled just 34 seconds into the third after yielding a goal to David Krejci, and he would end the night with 17 saves on 22 shots.
Dan Ellis played the rest of the way, but stopped just seven of the 10 shots that he faced.
Ellis had some issues of his own in the previous game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, as he committed a bad giveaway of his own that led to a Leafs’ goal. Like Smith, Ellis also got caught out of the net on a Toronto dump in, as the puck struck the photographers cut out hole on the glass and kicked out in front of the empty Tampa net as he had gone behind to cut off the wraparound.
In order for the Lightning to compete and have a chance to win games, the goaltenders cannot continue to gift-wrap goals for their opponents. Especially two per game like in the past two contests.