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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.

Follow me on Twitter: @TBLHockeyBuzz
Filed Under:   tampa   bay   lightning   buffalo   sabres   pittsburgh   penguins  
February 10, 2012 10:14 AM ET | Delete
This team just needs that, a legit no. 1 and another shutdown dman (we also need to get rid of the useless baggage of Roloson, Clark, Bergeron). We could sell Downie, Bergeron, Moore and Kubina for picks and a player.
February 10, 2012 10:45 AM ET | Delete
Dont' look now, but the Sabres are getting hot!
February 10, 2012 11:24 AM ET | Delete
Cheese bolts are done baby,stick a fork in em!!!!!!!!!!!!!
February 10, 2012 1:31 PM ET | Delete
February 10, 2012 4:35 PM ET | Delete
Once again love your optimism Michael. Last night's game was a heart breaker. Ranger fans who usuallyl do not watch Bolts games were excited to see a great game.This is a team with greatness that's not yet" matured" because of a wobbly defense and PP.There are few if any teams with 3 forwards who have over 40 points like the Bolts. Once they get a topD man and goalie the SC is theirs for the taking.
February 10, 2012 4:46 PM ET | Delete
I still think Moore and Kubina should be resigned, Kubina has played well lately and Moore is a good 3rd liner and face off guy. Bergeron I would take a few new sticks for. Downie is a head scratcher some nights he's all over ice hitting and making plays and other nights like lastnight he's invisible.
February 10, 2012 5:28 PM ET | Delete
I'm affraid our goalie and D will come next year. I don't think we will see anything drastic done soon, this is Yzerman we are talking about and his moves came early last year and I would think the same would happen if he thought we had a shot. We'll be back next year with out a doubt, 1/2 the teams this year are unexpected surprises.
February 10, 2012 5:55 PM ET | Delete
Laugh all you want scabs, but When you have 1 regulation loss in the last 9 games I think we have a shot, its slim but there is a chance. This weekend will tell us some but not all. One thing is for sure, Boucher will have this team fighting til the end. I would be shocked if we saw a fail for nail campaign in Tampa.
February 10, 2012 6:16 PM ET | Delete
Bishop, Bishop, Bishop!!!!!
February 10, 2012 8:27 PM ET | Delete
is the idiotic senator bandwagon jumper talking smack when his team has only won 3 out of the last 10?
February 10, 2012 9:18 PM ET | Delete
Actually he's a leafs fan I believe.
February 10, 2012 11:37 PM ET | Delete
It's amazing what this team is doing with Garon in net every night. Garon is a back up goalie not a starter. Roloson is done they need to start in goal and work there way out.
February 10, 2012 11:47 PM ET | Delete
Too bad you can't trade for a top 4 d man without selling the farm.
February 10, 2012 11:57 PM ET | Delete
Bishop, Shultz and Commodore.
February 11, 2012 12:33 AM ET | Delete
In all honestly, the Lightning probably won't make a push for one of the big 3 backups/potential NHL starters seeing as Yzerman has stated that he will not trade picks or prospects. We don't have enough roster worth to trade for them. Bishop, Helenius and Tokarski are our best bets.
February 11, 2012 1:52 AM ET | Delete
It will be interesting to see what happens. Given the situation, with a couple of wins in a row this week, Yzerman would almost be forced to do something. Patience is great, but as I said in the blog, we don't want another Dean Lombardi here. He built a team with patience but now he's reluctant to make any moves to take the team to the next level.
February 11, 2012 6:28 AM ET | Delete
Ben Bishop what would he cost to get him ?
February 11, 2012 7:28 AM ET | Delete
I'm still not sold on Bishop as he's not proven at the NHL level. He's no better than Tokarski at this point. Also, he's had one good season (this year). His career stats are nothing spectacular.
February 11, 2012 10:37 AM ET | Delete
Ben Bishop is a UFA this season, so nothing. Michael our choices are limited so I am looking at the most rational. Any of those three wouldn't automatically no.1 they would stay behind Faron for another season.
February 11, 2012 11:18 AM ET | Delete
According to CapGeek, Bishop is a RFA at the end of the season. That's also what Bob McKenzie reported a while back. That puts him in the same boat as Bernier and Schneider, just with no experience. http://capgeek.com/players/display.php?id=996
February 11, 2012 11:51 AM ET | Delete
I was reading somewhere that he was a certain type of UFA.
February 11, 2012 12:30 PM ET | Delete
Now don't laugh to hard but what IF Thomas bacame avaiable? or Rask for that matter, supposed not happy being back up. Would the cost be greater or less for an older goaltender. He's prooven plus i think he's got some miles left in the tank were he can play till Tokarski is ready. I think it would be a cheaper to get Thomas over ANY RFA netminder we are interested in.
February 11, 2012 12:43 PM ET | Delete
Is Josh Harding or Nabokov still a option ?
February 11, 2012 1:53 PM ET | Delete
Oomroy: Interesting concept actually. Things in Boston aren't as rosy as they may seem IMO. Something has got to give. Rask and Thomas don't seem to have that beneficial relationship Luongo and Schneider have in Vancouver. So, what happens? Well one guy has got to go. The Bruins would be stupid to let Rask go with Thomas at 37(??). Getting Thomas is a very interesting proposition.
February 11, 2012 1:54 PM ET | Delete
todd: I see Harding as more of an option than Nabokov. Garth Snow has said that he won't be trading Nabokov and even if he does, the asking price will be ridiculously high for a rental guy. Harding is more of the long-term solution that the Bolts are looking for.
February 11, 2012 6:22 PM ET | Delete
According to the Tampa Bay Times http://www.tampabay.com/sports/hockey/lightning/article1211814.ece,Ben Bishop will be a Group VI unrestricted free agent. Bishop is generally regarded as the best goalie not playing in the NHL. While his career numbers aren't spectacular, they're very solid. Plus, they're better than what we got currently at the NHL level. Bishop is above Tokarski in the fact of experience being that this is Bishop's 5th year at the AHL level and also has 13 NHL games under his belt.
February 11, 2012 10:06 PM ET | Delete
Ah interesting. Thanks for posting that. So basically if he plays more, he becomes an RFA. If he doesn't play, he becomes a UFA. It will be interesting to see what St. Louis does with him down the stretch. I can't imagine they'd trade him before the deadline. There's no motive to do so.
February 11, 2012 11:16 PM ET | Delete
I would have posted that too if I wasn't so lazy.
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Blog Archive

01 Lightning News and Notes to Start December
02 Why Bolts Must Get Into Bobby Ryan Trade Discussions
02 Breaking News: Lightning Make Minor Trade with Panthers
03 10 Bold Predictions for Rangers vs. Lightning Game
04 Lightning Lose to Rangers: My Prediction Round Up
06 Simply Embarassing: Lightning Drop 5th Straight to Islanders
08 Lightning Beat Rangers to End Losing Streak - Mixed Bag
10 The 1-3-1 Returns: Flyers Take on Bolts at Wells Fargo
11 Lightning Fall to Flyers: The Slot Looks Like a Drive-Thru
12 From Bad to Worse + Lightning Sign Miettinen
14 Lightning Talk: Defensemen to Target in Free Agent Frenzy
14 Scenario
15 Bolts Squeeze By Flames Thanks to Dominant Second Period
17 Lightning Should Make a Push for Shea Weber
18 Bolts Down Blue Jackets + Rumor Round-Up
20 Why the Lightning WILL make the Playoffs This Season
22 Lightning Embarrassed by Sharks in San Jose: U-G-L-Y
22 Tampa Bay Lightning: I Want Your Opinions
23 Bolts vs. Avalanche: A Long-Winded Game Preview
24 Bolts Lose to Avalanche in Goalie Battle + Rumor Round-Up
25 Risky Business: Victor Hedman and Other Top-5 D-Men
26 Flyers vs. Bolts Shaping Up to be a Great Game -- Preview
27 Next 6 Games Vital for Lightning + My Predictions
27 Bryzgalov Shaky as Lightning Beat Up on Flyers
29 A Tale of Two Underperforming Teams: Bolts vs. Canadiens
29 A V for Vinny, a V for Victory: Bolts Down Habs 4-3
30 Bolts/Canes Preview + HB Hotstove Response + Rumor Update
31 Lightning Defeat 'Canes 5-2 on Phil Esposito Night