The sun has risen on another glorious day in Florida, or if you’re a hockey fan, another glorious opportunity for the Tampa Bay Lightning to bury the New York Islanders tonight, at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, in goals and lights out play to secure two more points towards the playoffs.
Honestly, though, if you’re living in my neck of Florida, it isn’t all that sunny really. To be up front (it’s what I do). Very overcast, and oddly chilly. But that doesn’t mean the Lightning’s playoff chances aren’t sunny, and the least bit warm.
They really, really are.
The Bolts have mustered up a nine game point streak over the past three-plus weeks, and five of those games were five straight wins. More than enough to pull the desperate Lightning from the bowels of a five game losing slump and the possibility of missing the playoffs. More than enough to put the Bolts right back in the mix, like they never left.
Currently the Bolts sit in third place in the Atlantic Division, just two points behind the Montreal Canadiens (who picked up a win on Tuesday night over the Buffalo Sabres to pull ahead in the standings) with 87 points. The two closest divisional contenders are the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings, who are currently battling for a wildcard spot with 80 points apiece. The Ottawa Senators sit far back from the fray with 72 points.
So as it stands going into tonight’s game the Lightning are sitting pretty in a guaranteed qualifying spot, with seven-points separating them and any Atlantic contender, and ten games left on the schedule, seven of which are at home – but that doesn’t mean the point streak should stop, obviously. Every win is of massive importance and, as we all know, things can happen pretty fast in hockey. Not just goals scored but also playoff positioning lost if those playoff hungry teams are not careful of their surroundings. Get too caught up in where you are and stop winning games, or securing points at the very least, and before you know it: you’re caught.
Tonight against New York should be an interesting and entertaining game. The Isles have been a bit of a mixed bag for the Bolts this season. The Lightning has either beat the crap out of the Islanders or been pushed to overtime and shootouts, and either barely won or outright lost in the skills competition (I was at the last Isles game at home when we lost, it still hurts).
New York sits at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division with 65 points, but don’t think for one second that that means this team is done for the season. A lot of talent still sit on their benches (despite the loss of John Tavares to injury and Thomas Vanek to trade) and they’re still playing for their jobs, if not the Cup anymore. Which gives certain teams a dangerous combination of selflessness and disregard. They will try to upset any thoughts the Bolts have at grabbing two more points from them, and will, if the Bolts are not willing to put up a fight.
I know the Isles will fight. They’ve got nothing to lose and sure as hell don’t mind denying some better positioned playoff contenders, if they can, from getting even better positioned.
So in a nutshell, the Bolts can’t play a brand of stand-up, conservative, laid back hockey if they want to win tonight. They have to play the Isles like they have played the Bruins or the Pens over the past two weeks. They have to play it like the postseason is already here. And that kind of goes for the remaining ten games of the regular season.
That is my Blevman (heh heh) Key to the Game.
But ultimately, as the sun rises, it must also set. So as the bright playoff possibilities of this Thursday morning rise, so should the cold reality of the result of tonight’s game at the Forum set later on.
Hopefully, we all will rest soundly in a our beds after the game tonight with the warmth of two recently collected points tucking us in. Two more points added to the pot that is making this season a magical one, and the Isles, meanwhile, are back at trying to spoil some other team’s parade in their next game.