For the briefest of moments, maybe say ten minutes or so, approximately, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have alternated between first and second place in the Atlantic Division this season since November, was bumped back to fourth in the division Saturday, and out of the top-three guaranteed divisional playoff spots.
But, like I said, only for the briefest of moments.
The Bolts ultimately defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-2, in dazzling come-from-behind fashion, Saturday evening (for the fourth time this season and one win away from a season sweep) to earn two much-needed points at home – regaining second place in the Atlantic (third in the Eastern Conference) by a point (71).
The Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs are currently breathing down the Lightning’s neck, both teams sit with 70 points apiece in third and fourth place, respectively, in the Atlantic, and right on the Bolts’ heels.
After a strange lack of total game effort at home on Feb. 6 against the Leafs, and the loss of goaltender Ben Bishop and center Valtteri Filppula during the same game to injuries, the Bolts needed, desperately, to win this final home game before the Olympic break to stay afloat in the division, and thank GOD they managed to muster enough energy and skill at the end of the game to steal the lead for the first time all game, and then cushion their lead with an empty netter to secure the two points.
Bishop had a lot to do with that. Playing hurt when the team really needed him in net opposed to much greener options: Cedrick Desjardins or Kristers Gudlevskis. Desjardins has significantly more game-time experience than Gudlevskis but looked a bit rusty against Toronto on Feb. 6 when asked to step up for the injured Bishop in the third period.
I personally liked his play on Saturday, you couldn’t really notice he was nursing an injury: Bish played lights out.
I also enjoyed the Lightning’s ability, which has been few and far between the past two weeks, to go goal for goal with the Wings, scoring when they needed to. The Bolts held on and toughed it out. Won a very important game before the Olympic break. As I thought they would and could do against the Wings. A team the Bolts have firmly had the number of this year.
Overall, the lasting feelings I carry from last Saturday’s game and the current playoff picture as it stands right now at the break, is this: the Lightning better come back from this brief break in the 2013-14 schedule ready to play their best hockey, ready to ride the playoff push all the way to late April, because now that the rest of the division has caught up with them, it will most likely be a battle in a closet to the very end between all of these teams (at least between Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, maybe Ottawa, and the Bolts, the Boston Bruins are on their very own island right now and probably will be for the rest of the year, and I don’t honestly anticipate Florida or Buffalo becoming an issue at this point).
Hopefully this break will prove to be fortuitous for Tampa Bay as it may give ample time for Filppula, Bishop, and Steven Stamkos (and any other players toughing it out with injuries that we haven’t even heard about yet) to get healthy and ready to play either on Feb. 27th or not too soon afterwards.
We’re going to need all hands on deck at this point, and it’s full steam ahead. Playoffs or bust!
Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning. This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.
This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.
That’s why I call it “off the dot”. Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific. While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational. We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed. The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion. And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles, too.
These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.