Lets go ahead and say it: That Calgary game was pretty terrible. Whether the Tampa Bay Lightning came out flat-footed, lazy or with an acute case of the “trap” game blues; either way, the results are the same. Tampa Bay lost 4-1 to a non-playoff team, at home, with a chance to use its game-in-hand over Montreal to its best use and building a two point lead over the Habs.
The Lightning failed to do so.
Now the Bolts are back in third place in the Atlantic Division with 93 points (Montreal had a better ROW score and regained second place positioning after Thursday’s loss). Adding further insult to injury, the Habs (95 points) have also regained their two point lead over the Bolts in the division, after blowing out the Ottawa Senators 7-4 last night.
Tampa Bay seemed to respond well on Thursday after Calgary scored two goals in a 15-second span (due to Lightning defensive breakdowns and one costly individual mistake), with great puck possession, speed and zone time on the Flames’ ice. Just no goals. Plenty of power play opportunities. Just no goals.
One of those particular rare kinds of hockey games where no limit of scoring opportunities seemed to bounce the Lightning’s way, and despite all of the constant effort and chances made by the Lightning: No comeback from Tampa Bay ever seemed to get off the ground.
Calgary won that game in the first period, in fifteen seconds. All they had to do, and did do, was sit back and weather the Lightning storm. Weather it till time ran out. And that’s what they did. It was a hard game to watch. It was a hard game for the Bolts to lose after playing arguably one of their best games just two days earlier against Montreal to clinch a playoff.
Now it’s time to play the Dallas Stars, and it should be a doozy. The Bolts have struggled against the Stars this year, and unlike the Flames, Dallas is currently battling for a wildcard spot in the West and will play accordingly. The Stars are currently one point out of the second WC spot with 85 points behind the Phoenix Coyotes. Maybe that’s a good thing since lately it seems Tampa Bay doesn’t do well in trap games but much better in games that count. So they should look at tonight’s game under that light. That and a need to prove themselves to Forum fans who witnessed Thursday’s sad loss to Calgary.
It doesn’t get any easier from here. Next up, after Dallas, are a still alive, still dangerous, and still floundering for a wildcard spot: Toronto Maple Leafs. Followed by Philadelphia, who are playing some really great hockey as they make way for the playoffs. Finally, we play Columbus (much like the Stars the Bolts have struggled to beat the Blue Jackets this year) in our final home game of the regular season before hitting the road for the season closing game in Washington against the Capitals. Both teams fighting for their playoff lives – Columbus holds the East’s second WC spot with 85 points while Washington sits back with 81 points, looking to push its way in over the few remaining games in the schedule.
Tampa Bay may have clinched a playoff, but just about every team it plays over the last two weeks of the season are either fighting for their postseason futures or looking to have one.
The Caps, along with the Penguins and the Bruins, are one of few Eastern Conference teams the Bolts haven’t been able to beat in 2013-14. Now Washington has struggled since the Olympic break, and Ovi has started to look human since the Olympics as well, but still, Ovi and the Caps have had nothing but success against our team, so honestly, the road to the playoffs may be set, but if the Bolts want to secure anymore points to win coveted home ice advantage against the Habs, or just stay the Atlantic’s number three seed, they will have to play a lot better hockey than they did on Thursday, because points will be hard to acquire down the homestretch, and the Bolts still need them.