For teams in the playoff picture, the stretch run starts somewhere in that last month or so of the season. For teams that are not fortunate enough to be in one of the elusive top 8 spots, the stretch is never ending. In my mind, the next weeks, which contain 6 games, are the most important weeks of the season for this Lightning club. Success is vital in these 6 games if this team wants any chance at making the playoffs. It’s time to put up or shut up for this group. Go out and show this fan base and the rest of the league what you are made of. Here’s a quick little synopsis of the next two weeks with the way I’d like it to play out thrown in. I’ll have game previews and re-caps up for each; this is just a general synopsis of things to come along with my predictions.
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Game 1: Lightning vs. Flyers
I’ve already got my game preview up for this game happening tomorrow. In my mind, there isn’t a more challenging game over the next two weeks. The Flyers boast some very potent offensive threats along with a very strong defense. The Bolts only saving grace could be that Bryzgalov hasn’t exactly proven his worth in Philly as of yet. If he is spotty over the course of 60 minutes, the Lightning do have a chance in this game. That being said, I do believe that the Lightning will kick off this little stretch of 6 games with a loss. The Flyers are just too powerful and the Lightning D won’t be able to handle it. Brewer and Hedman have consistently shown fans that they aren’t (at least right now) capable of handling some of the great forwards in the game. All that said, once the confidence comes back to those guys, this team could be VERY scary.
My Prediction: 5-3 Flyers
Game 2: Lightning vs. Canadiens
Here is where the Lightning will get their first win of this stretch. Mired in a huge coaching “controversy” of sorts, the Canadiens are a team in a lot of trouble. They seemingly weren’t happy under Martin and they don’t seem any more content under Cunneyworth. Without Carey Price and Erik Cole, this team would be last in the Eastern Conference. The defense is young and vulnerable and the forward group doesn’t have a lot of size. If the Lightning can utilize their speed, it should be a very winnable game. To me, this is the kind of game Stamkos and St. Louis should thrive in. Playing against a weak defense on home ice should make for a very offensive match. If that’s the kind of game that is played, the Lightning shouldn’t have any problem beating the Habs.
My Prediction: 4-2 Lightning
Game 3: Lightning vs. Hurricanes
Call me crazy, but I’m going to predict back-to-back wins for the Lightning. After the firing of Paul Maurice and the hiring of Kirk Muller, it was thought that everything would somehow be righted in Carolina. I find it funny how people are so quick to blame a coach for the misfortunes of a team and somehow a lot of blame escapes the players. Despite all the trade rumors surrounding him, how is it that Eric Staal is getting a seemingly free pass here. Well, it bodes well for the Lightning. In a divisional game, the Lightning shouldn’t have a problem coming out and putting up the kind of effort they did against Colorado. Against this Hurricanes group, that should be all it takes to get a win. The only shot the Canes really have is if Cam Ward can turn in an all-star performance.
My Prediction: 3-2 Lightning
Game 4: Lightning @ Leafs
I’m going to call this the most exciting game of the stretch. When it comes down to it, the Leafs are exciting to watch. Phil “The Thrill” Kessel is an absolute riot to watch. He and Stamkos going head-to-head could be a match-up to watch. There will be goals in this game, there will be hits in this game, and there will be excitement in this game. In years past I wouldn’t have played up a game against the Leafs this much but I truly feel the excitement heading into this one. Every game at the ACC has a certain atmosphere around it; more so than any other Canadian city. In a back-and-forth tilt, the Lightning will push this game into overtime. Both of these teams are pretty strong offensively and it should make for some great end-to-end rushes. Unfortunately, I see Toronto winning this one in the extra frame.
My Prediction: 5-4(OT) Leafs
Game 5: Lightning @ Senators
Don’t be surprised if you see the Senators’ Paul MacLean stepping up to accept a Jack Adams trophy in a few seasons time. In my opinion, he is one of the great rookie coaches this league has seen in the last little while. His time in Detroit has certainly served him well in his coaching of this relatively young Senators team. The biggest problem I see with the Senators at this point is that Craig Anderson hasn’t been the all-star goalie that he was in his first season with Colorado. I don’t know what has happened to the guy, but he just isn’t the same. If the Lightning can take advantage of the goalie situation, this game becomes very winnable. When you consider that the Sens don’t exactly pose the biggest defensive threat either, it’s a game I’m looking at as a must win for this club. That said, the Sens do have some offensive threats that are VERY potent. Look for this to be an offensive showcase showdown (does The Price is Right have that trademarked?).
My Prediction: 5-4 Lightning
Game 6: Lightning @ Montreal
For the last game of the stretch, the Bolts head to the Bell Centre to take on the Montreal Canadiens for the second time. Like I predicted in the last meeting, I see this game being very winnable. To me, the Canadiens just don’t have enough to beat the Lightning if the Bolts actually decide to show up. Sometimes it’s tough to play hard on the last game of a road trip. That said, I think that with the New Year rolling around, this team knows what’s at stake. There is a great group of leaders in the room and they know that the playoffs are a MUST for the fan base at this point. Sheer will should be able to lead the Bolts to victory over the Habs for the second time during the 6 game stint. That said, it’s not going to be an easy one to win. Personally, I think that a shootout in going to find its way into this game.
My Prediction: 3-2(SO) Lightning
Am I being a little optimistic for this stretch of games? Absolutely I am. As a fan, it’s what I do. I put complete faith in the guys to go out each and every single night and play their hearts out for the Bolts. Hopefully we can all look back at the end of the season and say that this little stretch of games is what really turned this season around. It started with a great effort in Colorado and it continues with a 4-1-1 record here. 9 out of a possible 12 points sounds really nice and it should go a long way in ensuring that this team has a decent shot at making the playoffs. In my mind, this is the most important segment of the season to date. This team needs to show us that it can go on a little run. It’s time to put everything on the line and go out and fight. As Lightning fans, we know what this team can do, but it’s time to go out and prove it to the rest of the league.
What are your predictions for this stretch? Do you agree that it’s the most important segment of the season to date?
Thanks for reading and have a great day.
Follow me on Twitter: @michaelstuart93
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