The Tampa Bay Lightning won a game against the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night (3/5) in order to keep from falling farther away from a playoff spot. The Carolina Hurricanes have taken first place in the Southeast division, holding a six point lead on the Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets. However, the 8th seed is all the Lightning need to make a playoff run. The New York Rangers currently hold the final playoff spot by just 3 points over the Lightning. Those watching the Lightning play recently have been heavily frustrated and heartbroken as the team has struggled, so a glance at the standings is refreshing at this point.
For the past two seasons, the Lightning have shown us fans that they are a streaky team. We might not like to admit it, but the Lightning are either really good or really bad; there is no in between. This is why it can become so maddening to watch the team throughout the season. The quality of play on the ice for the Lightning can change at the blink of an eye. One period of play can be amazing, but after a 15 minute intermission, the team may show up a bit flustered, leaving us to wonder if it is even the same team on the ice. The focus of the Lightning should be to eventually find a way to replicate the same intensity on a game-per-game basis while still pacing themselves for a full season (half a season this year).
Young players from the AHL seem to always play a factor in the performance of the Lightning, a little more so than other teams. Last night Alexander Killorn scored a goal while Ondrej Palat tallied his second assist on the season. Cory Conacher was able to notch 2 assists and I will admit, it seems hard to call Conacher a rookie anymore. Conacher was leveled by New Jersey Devils forward Cam Janssen last night in illegal fashion but popped right back onto his skates afterwards. Conacher has the ability to grid out any play, despite his small size (5 foot 8 inches, 179 pounds)and also carries the ability to create plays purely with speed. Cory Conacher represents the qualities of every player coming up from the AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch: Grit, Tenacity, and Relentlessness.
The top scorers on the team, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, are usually a guarantee to produce on a nightly basis. Last night against the Devils it was St. Louis tallying a point when he scored on a beautiful cross ice feed from Killorn. Stamkos was, by his standards, rather quiet during the game. He was stopped early in the third period on a break away by back up goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who was in after Johan Hedberg was pulled. Anders Lindback performed well, which is a necessity at this point as Mathieu Garon is injured (although it does not seem severe).
With all of the talent the Lightning hold with both star players and prospect players, it would seem highly unlikely that the team would miss the playoffs. Despite the recent funk, the Lightning are still within distance of a playoff berth, or even the Division pennant. The goal in this shortened season is simple: just get in.
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