Lightning playing the spoilers? Bolts versus Sabres preview

WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EDT
MEDIA:  Sun Sports TV (Cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGEDie By The Blade

The Buffalo Sabres come into Times Palace tonight, having a very middling 4-4-2 record in their past ten games.  The infallible and dominant Ryan Miller has looked more and more mortal as the season has gone on...  With both points in mind, teh Bolts could endanger the Sabres third-seeding in the Eastern Conference with a win tonight.

You see, the Montreal Canadiens have won their past six games in a row and the Ottawa Senators (who are on a dismal 3-6-1 stretch) are all of 3 points behind the Sabres for the northeast division lead and the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference.

While the Lightning's own playoff chances have gotten slimmer and slimmer in the past few days, it must be remembered that the Bolts do still have a chance to influence the Eastern Conference playoffs, even if they ultimately do not participate in them.

Of course, you have to do two things to potentially play the role of the spoiler:  Score goals and ultimately win an important game.  The Lightning are not scoring goals right now, with only two tallies their past two games.  When Todd Fedoruk has become a crucial part of the offense, something is wrong.

And of course, what is wrong is that the wear-and-tear of a long season has finally reared it's ugly face.  Ryan Malone is out, Mattias Ohlund is out, Zeke Konopka is out.  Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are hurting...  These are just the known, public injuries.

There's not telling if the Lightning defense will be able to contain the Sabres...  They've been struggling to hold their own with the absence of Ohlund from the lineup.  Yet even with Mattias Ohlund contributing minutes to the blue-line, Tampa Bay's defense has been underachieving and inconsistent all season long.

The Sabres are the third of the past four Lightning opponents that have been weak (at best) on the power play.  They're ranked 23rd in teh league with a 16.5% conversion rate.  Of course, on the flip side, they boast the best penalty kill unit in the National Hockey League with a 85.9% kill rate.  While the Lightning have been playing strongly during the power play, they have their work cut-out for them tonight.

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