WHERE: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia
WHEN: 7 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Japers' Rink, Kings of Leonsis, Rock the Red
The Tampa Bay Lightning's quest for the 2012 NHL playoffs suddenly turned into a quest for surviving its final 16 games on Tuesday night. When Mathieu Garon went down with his partially torn groin, the ultimate adversity that the Bolts hadn't faced this season arrived: the loss of the number one goalie.
"It's terrible," he said. "You get hurt. It's never good timing, but this one is probably the worst timing. I felt like I let the team down. But I know they will keep battling and play hard."
And now, the complication of being short a goalie will affect the Lightning system. As was pointed out yesterday, Dustin Tokarski has been recalled by the Lightning from the Norfolk Admirals. Tik has been part of the reason the Ads are on a 12 game winning streak in the AHL right now. The loss of Tokarski puts added pressure on remaining Admirals goaltender Jaroslav Janus, and led to the promotion of Pat Nagle from the ECHL Florida Everblades to the Ads.
Lightning fans, however, are worried about the Lightning first and foremost. Their playoff chances took a hit with the 7-3 loss to the Senators Tuesday, but not as badly as at first glance: The Washington Capitals are two points ahead of the Lightning in the East, and Winnipeg's former-Thrasher franchise is four points in front of Tampa Bay.
Things don't get much easier in the closing weeks of the season. Yes, Tampa Bay plays plenty of games at home - the seven immediately following tonight are at the Forum - but that doesn't change the opponents or the schedule. Boston, Toronto, Buffalo, St. Louis... Road games against Philly and Boston (back-to-back) and two games against the former-Thrashers are still on tap after that.
There's plenty of hockey to be played yet, and if Dustin Tokarski is going to have an extended stint in Tampa, it should be an interesting couple of weeks.
The mire that represents the bubble teams in the Eastern Conference remains thick. Toronto lost last night to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Buffalo Sabres leap-frogged the Lightning in the standings with their win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Going into tonight's action, the East looks like this:
|New York Rangers||65||42-16-7||91|
|New Jersey Devils||66||37-24-5||79|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||66||31-29-6||68|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||67||30-30-7||67|
|New York Islanders||66||28-29-9||65|
The Washington Capitals are as challenged this season as the Lightning, (or the Leafs, or the Sabres, or Winnipeg) at gaining a foothold in playoff seeding and keeping it. They remain in striking distance of a berth (...and the division title) but are lost in inconsistency; they are 4-5-1 in their past 10 games, including Tuesday's overtime loss to Carolina. On the other hand, Buffalo (who tied the Caps in the standings with their win) may be peaking at just the right time; they are 7-1-2 in their past 10.
Which brings us to tonight, it's a game Washington needs. The Bolts are wounded in the crease (Garon is "Non", Roloson is inconsistent at best, and Dustin Tokarski's season debut seems like a huge request for the 22-year-old third-year pro) but rolling on offense. The line of Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Teddy Purcell has been carrying Tampa the past few games. Though the focus is on Stamkos' goal scoring ability (48 and counting), it's Purcell who has really grabbed people's attention. Teddy has scored 20 points in his past 10 games (6 goals, 14 assists) and eclipsed his career-high for points in a season (53 points this season; last season's 51 points was his previous career high).
While the top line is rolling in Tampa, secondary scoring is still limited. Tim Wallace - who hadn't scored in limited play with the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins in his career -- has two goals in his past two games. Ryan Malone has seven points in his past eight games. The remaining cast of characters - Nate Thompson, Tom Pyatt, Brett Connolly, Ryan Shannon and company - chip in from time to time, but the offensive attack has been largely limited to the top-line escapades of Purcell, Marty and Stamkos.