Marty and Stammer and the Carolina Hurricanes. Who wins? WHo loses? Who goes to the playoffs?
There was a time in the recent past when the Tampa Bay Lightning would play a close contest and then found a way to lose. This was the epitome of life under head coach Rick Tocchet: one goal, one loss, and a putrid record because of it.
Oh, it was a moral victory because the Lightning were playing opponents close while the team and organization was in shambles, but the .256 and .395 winning percentages in one-goal games for 2008-09 and 2009-10 respectively were atrocious, at best.
And while the Lightning have a knack for blow-out loses this season (I'm not even going to rehash all the 7-1, 8-1, 7-2 loses of the season), all opponents who overlook the Bolts and their close-quarters record this season are doing themselves a disservice.
In one goal games, Tampa Bay is one dangerous animal. Ridicule the Bolts power play, mock the goaltending, put down the defense as you see fit. In a one-goal contest, odds are you'll be burned by Guy Boucher and Lightning. Tampa Bay leads the National Hockey League in winning percentage in one-goal affairs (.690). They've played 29 one-goal games (out of the 64 contests of the season to date) and have a dominant 20-3-6 record, including last night's come-from-behind winner against the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers.
It's up to the imagination what would happen if the Lightning improved special teams, or had solidified goaltending... One can assume more one-goal games, and maybe more games going the Lightning's way... But that's all fantasy and daydreaming. The reality is that the Lightning plays the second game of a back-to-back affair, traveling to Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. And they do it 4 points out of a playoff spot.
Despite all the adversity, Tampa Bay is still alive and within striking distances of playoff seeding.
The Bolts can't even make single-game road trips without additional adversity. Not only are they still on the mend from that nasty flu strain that ran through the ranks last week, not only are they still without Mon Capitaine Vincent Lecavalier (hand), Victor Hedman (upper body), and Marc-Andre Bergeron (back)... Not only do they tend to regress on road-trips after homestand success.... But they didn't get into Raleigh last night until 2:30 AM with thanks to mechanical issues with their charter flight.
Adversity! Yay, adversity!
So, the team rests today before heading to RBC Center to take on the Canes.
The Hurricanes had yesterday off after playing the Rangers on Thursday, losing 3-2 to John Tortorella's crew. The Hurricanes, under new head coach Kirk Mueller's guidance, are still mired in the bottom of the East with 61 points, but now they have a grand opportunity with their remaining games this season. The grand opportunity is there for all games against Southeast division foes: Play the spoiler.
Tampa Bay, Washington, Winnipeg... Hell, even Florida could find themselves suddenly outside the playoff bubble with one or more losses to the Hurricanes... And, yes, the Lightning (two), Panthers (three), Former-Thrashers (two), and Capitals (one) all have games yet to be played against Carolina.
This is a dangerous contest for the Lightning in that the team itself is taxed; from emotions of the past week via the 2012 trade deadline, from illness, from playing the night before, and now sleep deprivation. All of those caveats come before the aspect that routinely spells disaster for this season's Lightning team: This is a road game after home success.
It's a challenge, but that does not mean it's impossibility that the Lightning further bolster their meager (13.2% by way of Sports Club Stats) playoff hopes with a win tonight in Raleigh.
If the Lightning has a strong one-goal record this season, their one-goal affair of the moment is making up those four points in the standings that they need to enter the playoffs. 18 games to go, and yet Tampa Bay is still in this thing.