After two demoralizing losses for the Tampa Bay Lightning, nobody is going to fault the odd fan or two for falling off the bandwagon here. In all likelihood, the Lightning will be sellers by the February 27th with their playoff dreams shattered, but, my name is Mr. Optimism and positivity is my game. The Bolts aren’t out of this race quite yet. They have games in hand on the teams they’re chasing, a 6-2-2 record in the last 10 games and key players heating up. What more could this team need right now (we’ll get to that in a bit)?
This weekend, the Lightning will take on the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. Because of the back-to-back nature of the games, this will be a weekend preview for both games. Before going into a little bit of detail on each game, it should be established that the Lightning really need 3 out of a possible 4 points this weekend. Mathematically, I just can’t figure out any other way for them to stay in the race. Let’s get started.
Saturday vs. Sabres
It’s not hard to see that this is a very important game for both clubs. The Sabres and Lightning currently sit tied in the Eastern Conference with identical records. Can everybody say 4 point swing? That’s exactly what this game is. If the Lightning have any trouble getting up for this one, I’ll write this season off following my post-game review; this one is that important.
The Buffalo Sabres are mired in a season to forget. Terry Pegula, the wealthy new owner of the team, has learned very quickly that you can’t buy success in this league. Hefty contracts like those given out to Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino haven’t panned out and the rest of the team seems to have regressed. At some point, changes are going to happen in Buffalo whether players are traded or management/coaching undergoes a shake-up. For a team with such passionate, knowledgeable fans, this just isn’t acceptable.
When it comes down to it, the two points in this game are pivotal for the Lightning. Without them, the Lightning could easily find themselves fighting for a top-3 pick come April. The Tampa Bay Lightning – Fail for Nail campaign bus hasn’t quite left the station. Consider, for a second, that the Lightning hold games in hand on just about every team they are chasing. Pick up wins in those games and the Bolts will find themselves in a great position to make things interesting down the stretch.
When you look at the Sabres roster, it’s baffling to see that they are doing so poorly. A roster with players like Vanek, Roy, Pominville, Regehr, Ehrhoff and Miller should be much higher in the standings. Take that core on its worst night and it should still be better than a number of teams in this league; yet, here they sit near the bottom of the East. There isn’t a more enigmatic team in the league, in my opinion. There seems to be some sort of internal chemistry issue that just breeds bad energy. Despite the Bolts’ troubles this season, you never get the feeling that there are problems in the dressing room. On the other hand, whenever Buffalo Sabres interviews are aired, there’s a sense that something just isn’t quite right.
While this is a very winnable game for the Lightning, the one concern heading into this one has to be looking ahead to Sunday. What if the boys come out and are too focused on taking on the Penguins to even think about the Sabres? We see this phenomenon all the time in sport. This is where coaching comes in. One thing Guy Boucher deserves a lot of credit for is his ability to inspire the guys to come out each and every single night regardless of the opponent. That’s going to be key tomorrow against the Sabres.
My Prediction? Two points for the Lightning.
Sunday vs. Penguins
The Sabres aren’t the real challenge this weekend; the real challenge will come in the form of the Penguins. It’s amazing that even without Sidney Crosby, this team remains one of the most dangerous in the league. Guys like Malkin and Letang amaze each and every single night and if you think other teams have trouble with Stammer and Marty, wait till Clark and Kubina get stuck out there against ‘Geno and Friends’. Oh, did I mention that the Pens also have one of the best goaltenders in the league? Marc-Andre Fleury is so athletic and underrated when it comes to goalies. Crosby and Malkin steal the spotlight but this guy is truly something special to watch.
So, it’s abundantly clear that this one is going to be a challenge. It will be interesting to see what Guy Boucher does with the goaltending for these games. If I was in charge, the Sabres game would be Roloson’s and Garon would be in net for the Pens. When it comes down to it, Garon gives this team a better chance to win against a high powered opponent.
I’ll give more of a preview for this game in my post-game analysis tomorrow.
As the Lightning head down the stretch, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. Will Steve Yzerman be a buyer? A seller? Will he do anything? I have a plea to Mr. Yzerman.
Imagine, for a second, that this team had a goaltender who could stop the puck and another top-4 D-man. Would we be better than the Jets? Capitals? Canadiens? Panthers? Leafs? I’d bet that the Bolts would be better than at least three of those teams. You’ve got to give something to get something in this league; like in life, nothing comes free. This is Steve Yzerman’s chance to make his mark on this roster. Don’t wait till February 27th to make your move, Steve. Act now. Take a chance that won’t only benefit this team now, but in the future as well.
This team could very well make the playoffs this season, with a little bit of help. But, more than that, this team could very well make the playoffs year after year, after year. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Thanks for reading.
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