The Tampa Bay Lightning grab a few points, jump ahead a bit; then two other teams, not far behind, win a few, grab some points, and jostle back into the top-three of the Atlantic Division – knocking the Bolts back into a wildcard spot. Those two teams right now are the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens (and then of course we have the Boston Bruins, on their own island in first place). With fifteen games left on the Lightning’s regular season schedule, a true divisional dogfight has ensued for one of the three (really two) remaining automatic playoff qualifying spots.
The Bolts are in a good spot to earn one (or at the very least a wildcard spot): winning their last two games and gaining points in their last four. But both the Leafs and the Habs have won more games than Tampa Bay since returning from the Olympic break, and they’re playing more consistently like two teams determined to nab a spot.
Aside from a recent three-game losing streak from Montreal (who snapped said losing streak against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, despite being down by three goals in the third period, came back to win in OT, and then winning again on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres) the Habs (81 points) have now pulled ahead of both Tampa Bay (79) AND Toronto (80) for second in the division after their weekend of wins.
But things are still very close. With one point separating all three “dog-fighters” with plenty of games left in the season to shake things up. As far as the Lightning and a wildcard spot is concerned, one reassuring thing to be seen this morning in the wildcard race is the five points the Bolts have over the Washington Capitals (74) and the three they hold over the New York Rangers (76).
With fifteen games left, it’s nice to see the Bolts positioned where they are, despite getting pushed out of the top-three by Montreal on Sunday. It appears to me that despite the recent slump of losses the Bolts started getting points right when they needed to to stay competitive with the two main teams (Toronto and Montreal) in direct conflict with them for a playoff spot.
As long as the Tampa Bay Lightning maintain their recent efforts during this long home-stand for the rest of the season, I don’t see the Bolts missing the playoffs. Like I said, I think they started scoring points (whatever points they could get at first, with two OT losses, and then the recent two wins) at precisely the time they needed to stay alive in this race. Had they not, well, then this article would have an entirely different tone to it. Sad resignation most likely.
Against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, the Bolts played a complete 60 minute game against a team that has stumped Lightning offense all season. Not only did the Bolts solve the equation of scoring against Martin Brodeur, but they scored consistently and shutdown (thanks to the efforts of new franchise record-holder in wins goaltender Ben Bishop) any chances the Devils had at scoring. Easily the best win the Lightning have produced since the Olympic break. Much like the tenacity of the Boston Bruins’ game of March 8, despite the loss, if the Bolts can continue to bottle and reproduce the efforts of Saturday throughout what remains of the season, despite the earlier slump, they’re in a great position to see the postseason.
Tonight is the Vancouver Canucks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Another chance to show that the last four games of concentrated effort are truly the play of the future and the “slumpy” losses that presided them are things of the past. When these two teams last faced each other this year, on Jan. 1 in Vancouver, the Bolts won 4-2. One of the many road wins the Lightning racked up through the back end of December and the first half of January.
I can’t overstate how important it is that Tampa Bay extend its winning streak to three games tonight and get two more points to stay competitive in this Atlantic Division dogfight between itself, Montreal and Toronto.
If Saturday’s efforts against New Jersey can be used as evidence for the defense then I think the Bolts are fully aware of where things lie, what’s at stake, and what they need to do to stay relevant in the mix of things.
Tonight’s game will prove it.
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.