It's like that scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off: At one point or another, the joyriding, school-skipping Ferris Bueller, Cameron Frye and Sloan Peterson are going to glance at the odometer of the 1961 Ferrari GT they're driving and notice the mileage is much, much higher than it should be... And when that happens, it's Cameron (whose father owns the car that he and Ferris stole for the day) who freaks out. How is he going to deal with this road bump? You can't hide this! You can't shrug it off! This is a major foul-up!
In a way, that's where we are with the Tampa Bay Lightning as they play a three-game road set this weekend, starting with tonight's game against the former-Atlanta Thrashers franchise in Winnipeg. While the players have seen teammates Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina and Steve Downie traded elsewhere, and while they've seen Captain Vincent Lecavalier succumb to a fractured hand (which will keep him out of action for weeks on end), they finished out their homestand at Times Palace on a winning note and kept their playoff hopes alive. They went 3-1-0 on the four game stint in Tampa and raised their miniscule chance to make the playoffs to just above 10% according to Sports Club Stats on Wednesday night.
But Tampa Bay is much more formidable at home than on the road. I mean, things weren't all rainbows and unicorns this past week - the shutout/drubbing of the club by the Ottawa Senators was what seemingly inspired Steve Yzerman to start the team's trade deadline sell-off - but the Lightning are 18-9-2 in 29 games at the
St. Pete Tampa Bay Times Forum this season. They are a dubious 9-17-4 in 30 games this season on the road.
All too often, the Bolts have played well at home and inspired confidence from the ans, before falling down and going boom on a road trip. Seeing the Penguins and Devils are also scheduled on this road trip, this has the potential to be a very big boom
The chips look to be against the Lightning right now - three roster players gone via trade, the team Captain out with a broken bone... Is this Cameron Frye's moment of horror filled realization, where the team panics and locks up?
Or is it the moment where they collectively kick the car and then decide to deal with the heat that's coming to them head-on?
Before I get lost in a comparison to a 26-year-old movie, it's time to speak about the challenge before the Lightning in the Canadian prairie town of Winnipeg tonight. The former Thrashers are tied for the Southeast division lead with the Florida Panthers right now. The oddity of that fact is that the Panthers are currently seeded 3rd (as division leaders) and Winnipeg's seeded 9th (and outside the playoff picture) in the Eastern Conference.
To say things are tight right now is an understatement.
The Washington Capitals sit two points out of the division lead in the standings with 63 points to their name... But the Capitals fell over themselves on Wednesday night (should we credit the evening's loss to Alex Ovechkin missing the game with a lower body injury?) and were pushed around by the Senators. That loss once again gave a breath of life to the Tampa Bay Lightning's own playoff chances.
That adds significant weight to tonight. The Bolts can not only make up ground, but also limit Winnipeg from moving forward with their own playoff aspirations.
But the Lightning are without the services of one Vincent Lecavalier as well as minus the recently moved Bolts, that's moved Nate Thompson into a role as the 2nd line center for the club (lining up with Ryan Malone and Adam Hall). While I have faith in all three players, it does feel like the Lightning offense has become incredibly top-heavy - It's Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Teddy Purcell or no one scoring goals for the Bolts. A little secondary scoring would go a long way, but even primary scoring is a challenge against Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec has given up all of 4 goals in his three starts against the Lightning this season, earning him a 1.32 GAA and .956 save percentage against Tampa Bay.