WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Die By The Blade
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres square off tonight at the Forum for the last time this season, and the direction of the two teams involved is quite different. Buffalo is playing for their playoff lives right now - they're in the thick of the mire and on the proverbial bubble - two points behind the Washington Capitals for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East (tied with Winnipeg's Former-Thrasher franchise for that distinction).
For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the grim reality has set in. While there are games still to be played (and the team will keep on fighting until the end), the playoffs are an improbable accomplishment for the 2011-12 Tampa Bay Lightning to achieve.
"I've got to give our players and coaching staff credit for their resiliency to battle all year long with the injuries and shortcomings and in terms of trades," Yzerman said. "They just kept plugging away and competed hard."
The latest adversity for the Bolts to face is continued life without Nate Thompson, and now Ryan Shannon being put on the shelf with the ambiguous "upper body injury." Thompson and Shannon did not skate this morning, and join Captain Vincent Lecavalier (hand), Mattias Ohlund (knees), Dana Tyrell (knee), Marc-Andre Bergeron (back), and Mathieu Garon (groin tear).
Between Thompson, Lecavalier and the loss (via trade) of Dominic Moore earlier this season, the Lightning aren't just depleted at center but also lack strength in the faceoff circle. Of the active players who remain on the Bolts (and who have taken more than a handful of faceoffs), it's Adam Hall who has the strongest team faceoff percentage (59.4%). The faceoff weakness was on display Saturday in the Bolts 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, where the Blues outperformed the Lightning in the faceoff circle 33 to 19.
St. Louis controlled the puck and the game Saturday in their playoff-clinching win. Now, enter a hungry Buffalo team in the thick of the stretch run, and you have another challenge in store for the Bolts tonight.
Both daily papers in Tampa ran stories about the players continuing to play in spite of the mounting complications and adversity of the season. Cited above was a quote from Steve Yzerman that says things with finality... But finality is not how the players approached things in either article.
From the Tampa Bay Times article:
"Packing the tent wouldn't be anything like this group," defenseman Brendan Mikkelson said. "We're always going to fight to the end. We've got to take it a day at a time and a game at a time. If you get extended too far along the negatives and things like that, things can snowball even more."
"It's never going to be easy, but we're not giving up,'' right wing Teddy Purcell said. "It's easier to get down on ourselves and easy to pull the tent in, but you really show who you are when you have some adversity and have a tough hill to climb. Going through this will hopefully make us better in the end; make us stronger players and people. It's never fun, but you just have to battle through it and stay positive.''
More adversity, more challenges, but acceptances of a looming end of this part of the process.
Pierre Cedric Labrie, fresh off helping the Norfolk Admirals achieve their 18th consecutive win this season (a single-season AHL record, and tying the overall record), has been recalled by the Lightning for tonight's game. Dustin Tokarski was the first off the ice this morning at practice and looks to start in goal for the Bolts.