Another big game arrives tonight for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as the regular season winds down, and another big test of the Bolts’ collective team character comes along with it.
This game travels to The Forum to test the team’s resolve, to test the team’s drive, to test the team’s intentions as the post season swiftly approaches.
This game arrives in the shape of a blue leaf.
Tampa Bay’s fellow Atlantic Division foes, the Toronto Maple Leafs, have witnessed a much more prolonged lapse in their recent play than the Lighting have been forced to endure, so much so, the Leafs have yet grab a playoff spot at all, and most likely, will fail to do so before the season ends.
That makes tonight’s game very dangerous in my mind. Not only could it be considered a trap game of sorts, but it’s also the last desperate grasp for purchase of a drowning, former playoff team, looking to make one final lunge for the postseason. Against a Tampa Bay team they have had success against in 2013-14; a Tampa Bay team that has seen a very significant slide in its quality of play since clinching the very thing Toronto covets the most.
A Tampa Bay team that needs to start winning games almost as desperately as Toronto if it wants a chance in hell of securing home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, or, if things don’t start getting better, and quick, a Tampa Bay team who, if it loses tonight, again, for the third time in a row since clinching a playoff, might be forced to settle for a top wildcard spot (if the Detroit Red Wings continue with their winning ways), and forced to play a much more difficult first round opponent (re: Pittsburgh Penguins), and a much more likely early exit from the playoffs.
And not even the No. 1 WC spot is guaranteed, not with how the Columbus Blue Jackets are playing (who the Bolts play on Friday April 11). Then it would be the No. 2 WC spot the Bolts would be settling on, and an opening round against the Boston Bruins. I’m sure all of you can gather what that series might look like. We’d have a better shot against the Pens, probably.
Whereas the best path at a deep, if not just the deepest, run through the playoffs is to stay the top-three seed in the Atlantic, and face the Montreal Canadiens, who the Bolts are 3-0-1 against on the season. The Lightning would eventually, and most probably, face the Bruins in round two, but at least they would have gotten to stage two of the whole thing, and maybe even have the momentum of a first round series win to bolster their confidence, and maybe pull off an upset against the Bruins. Stranger things have happened in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I wouldn’t rule the Bolts out. They looked really good in that last Bruins contest on Mar. 8 (losing in overtime).
But at the very least, they would have made it to the second round, played (hopefully) well and lost to a serious Cup contender (if not the outright winner), and a Lightning team, consisting mostly of really young, raw talent (and new veterans looking to be even more cohesive as a group with a new captain) could ride that high into the offseason, and into next year, with a new hunger, and some new experiences to add to a new season’s worth of fresh opportunities in 2014-15, in the hopes of getting back there again.
But it starts with tonight. If the Bolts have any hopes of turning some of these dreams; some of these opportunities; some of these valuable experiences into reality: It needs to happen at The Forum tonight against the Big Game that has just arrived at the Bolts’ front door, banging to be let in.
The Big Game in the shape of a blue leaf.
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.