The Christmas hiatus is over and the Bolts resume the season before the next interruption takes place in February of 2014 - the Sochi Olympics Furlough that will idle the league while many of its stars participate for their home countries.
With the resumption in mind, let's take a quick look at the Atlantic Division standings:
It's been a long while since the Bolts were actually in any type of divisional horserace... Well, any type of divisional horserace and actually making a showing. In recent years, when Tampa Bay participated in the Southeast Division, there was a horserace to avoid winning the division. But the Flortheast is not the Southeast, not nearly.
Boston stands as the team to beat in the division, and for all intents and Tampa is dependent on everyone else playing tough against the B's, because the Lightning have failed in three out of four contests scheduled between the two clubs, and fourth game is the sole remaining head-to-head contest between the two teams (March 8th in Tampa). The Lightning's position in the division is dependent on the continued stellar play by goalie Ben Bishop and the rookie dominated roster. If injuries get worse for the Bolts, they may very well teeter and fall in a manner similar to Detroit at current; the Red Wings have been plagued by the injury bug since November and are in a tie for fourth in the division with also-faltering Toronto. Ottawa, Florida and Buffalo are the clear also-rans of the division - out of contention unless things change abruptly and profoundly.
And then there's tonight's opponent, the Montreal Canadiens.
When the Lightning struggled, Les Habitants De Montreal eagerly took up the mantle of second most dominant team in the division. Overcoming their own injury issues form early in the season, they're currently sitting in great shape with 47 points on the season and a 22-13-2 record; one win, a minor two points, behind Tampa Bay in the standings. That adds profound weight to the contest between the clubs on Hockey Night in Canada tonight.
In fact, the Lightning's remaining divisional schedule is dominated by the Canadian teams; tonight's game is the second matchup with the Habs this season, the Bolts have yet to face the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa has three contests left with Ottawa compared to one game remaining between Tampa Bay and Boston, Detroit, and Florida.
Ben Bishop starts in net for the Lightning.
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