So much for the Lightning's problem of not being able to close out games!
As the Islanders closed the gap to 5-3 with 9:38 to go last night, I wondered if we were in for another late game collapse. Many others, I'm sure, feared the same. Goals by Vinny Lecavalier (completing a hat trick), Michel Ouellet and Jason Ward quickly - and by quickly I mean in a span of 42 seconds - eliminated any chance of that happening last night. The win, only the 2nd for the Bolts in their last 12 games, was a breath of fresh air for the club, as was the play of Lecavalier, who seems to be settling down a bit of late and rediscovering his game.
The Islanders, as I said <a href=http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog.php?post_id=14005>yesterday</a>, <i><b>should</b></i> have been a desperate club last night as, technically, they still had a snowball's chance in hell at a playoff spot. But the Islanders are a team that have clearly been exposed as weaker than weak, as exhibited in multiple ways last night: Mentally, they continue to take countless lazy penalties and commit turnovers. Physically, in a completely pointless fight with 1:22 left in a 5-goal game, Rob Davison got his ass handed to him by Nick Tarnasky. Emotionally too. Rick DiPietro's, "<i>Whatever</i>," response to coach Ted Nolan publicly wondering why he <i><b>refuses</b></i> to reduce the number of times he plays the puck (and frequently turns it over in turn) was particularly telling. DiPietro, for what it's worth, was <i><b>horrendous </b></i>last night and he, along with the rest of the Islander team, are showing tell-tale signs of a team that's packed it in. (Consider any remaining Nolan Jack Adams Trophy conversation, no matter how surprising the Isles were earlier in the year, dead, dead, <i><b>DEAD</b></i>.)
Meanwhile, the Lightning looked like anything <i><b>but</b></i> a tam that's ready for the season to end. They were aggressive and opportunistic, tenacious and unrelenting. Basically, everything you want a hockey team to be on a consistent basis. Karri Ramo played well in net (and had a bit of luck on his side early on, thanks to a couple of Islander post shots.) It's still <i><b>extremely</b></i> early to be thinking this way but, Ramo and Mike Smith just may turn out to be a very effective tandem for the Bolts. For starters, they have differing styles. Smith, of course, is very comfortable with playing the puck, adding that change-of-pace element from one goalie to the next that can play havoc for advance scouting from other clubs. Lightning coach John Tortorella has said the two will most likely split the final 12 games this year, giving the duo an equal opportunity to stake their respective claim on the Lightning crease.
Speaking of Tortorella, an aura of fishiness continues to surround the coach. Pure speculation here (though I'm not the <i><b>only</b></i> one who thought it noteworthy enough to mention) but Torts was immediately unavailable after the game last night, off to tend to personal matters, according to club officials. My (not-so) cryptic prediction remains - he's slowly the stage for an exit this summer.
One of my favorite things to do from time-to-time is to scan the press box and team executive suites during stoppages. You know, to see who's in the building and anything else I can pick up on ... Last night, what stuck out most to me, was an outwardly exasperated Islander GM Garth Snow, along with assistant Ryan Jankowski, looking bored out of their minds late in the game, heads resting in their hands, each man fiddling with a cell phone. I <i><b>so</b></i> wish I had a picture of <i><b>that </b></i>for you ... I half expected Snow to jump, I tell ya ...
As positive as the big win was for a Lightning team that, despite the losses, <i><b>has</b></i> shown significant jump in their step since the deadline, there is elevated cause for concern after last night, as they can officially welcome the Islanders to the Steve Stamkos-Drew Doughty-Alex Pietrangelo-Zach Bogosian-Kyle Beach party. Last night's loss dropped the Isles into a 26th place tie in the overall NHL standings and, clearly, their elevator is going down, down, down. Any sort of significant upswing for the Bolts is going to do serious damage to their draft lottery chances! (And I'm only <i><b>half</b></i> kidding here!)
Next, the Bolts head to Beantown to take on a struggling Bruins team on Thursday night. Boston has just 1 win in their last 7 games after falling to Ottawa last night 4-1. As for the Islanders, they'll make the short trek to Sunrise to visit the Florida Panthers. Any gamblers out there? Bet the <i><b>farm</b></i> on the Kitty Cats. No <i><b>way</b></i> the "<i>fragile</i>" Isles, as their own coach called them last night, win this game.
One last Bolt-related item ... anyone else <i><b>very</b></i> impressed with the play of Craig MacDonald recently? I thought he had another real solid outing last night. Maybe Mac's a character guy that Jay Feaster might consider re-signing this off-season after all. Just a thought ...
Finally, from elsewhere in the sports world, where baseball can <i><b>clearly</b></i> take a lesson from the cryptic world of hockey and football injury disclosure, take a look at this out of Houston Astros camp:
<i>Second baseman Kaz Matsui is expected to miss four or five days after being diagnosed with a condition known as <b>anal </b><b>fissure</b>.</i>
<i><b>Lower body injury</b></i>, anyone?!?!? <i><b>YIKES</b></i>!!!
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