This has been quite the season for storylines for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The team had an excellent start, led by Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Ben Bishop. We had a wholesale call-up of hot fresh talent from the team's stacked AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Then we had Stamkos break his leg, St. Louis demand a trade, and the AHL team fall into total disarray.
Through it all, the team has been... well, pretty good. They stumbled out of the Olympic break but seem to have righted the ship. Stamkos is back, St.Louis is gone, and the Tampacuse kids are exceeding expectations in a big way.
And most importantly, the team is on track to make the playoffs, seeded third in the Atlantic division as of this writing. The wolves are at their heels, but the Bolts are still collecting points. With their recent inability to defend leads in the third hopefully behind them, I asked the Raw Charge crew:
"Considering what they've dealt with this season (Stamkos, St.Louis, Tampacuse, and whatnot) and considering their play of late, what do you expect from the Lightning during the stretch drive to the playoffs?"
Clark Brooks, Staff writer, Ridiculously Inconsistent Trickle of Consciousness, Follow @ClarkBrooks .
A few weeks ago, when they were nearly shut out by Buffalo, I was really down on the Lightning's prospects of making the playoffs. I judged them as a team unlikely to get into the postseason and if they somehow managed to pull that off, they'd get knocked out (probably swept) in the first round. They just didn't look good enough to be considered worthy of trying to compete at that level.
Now, after the last three games, my perception is that they not only deserve to get in but could do some serious damage when they get there.
Perception is not always reality, however, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The Lightning are not as bad as they've looked when they've looked awful and they're probably not as great as they've been when they've been at their best.
That said, I think they're figuring some important things out at exactly the right time and with the remaining schedule set up to work in their favor, I expect this run to pay off with a spot in the playoffs.
Cassie McClellan, Senior Writer, Follow @dagmar27
Right now, they're finding ways to win - which has been a hallmark of Jon Cooper teams, at least in the AHL. And, also in true Cooper team fashion, they're doing it by blowing leads and coming from behind. Welcome back the cardiac kids of the NHL.
(And, yes, they were still pulling this stuff while they were on their 28-game winning streak in Norfolk in 2012. Almost every night it seemed like they could break their streak, but they always found ways to win. It wasn't often pretty, but in the end, it's the W that matters, right?)
It's looking like they're starting up a new streak right now, which is good, but you have to wonder if they might be peaking a little bit early for playoffs. True, they needed to pick things up in order to secure a good spot in the standings, but they were never that close to not making playoffs at all when they broke out of their slump - contrary to popular belief, I know. Despite the team's shortcomings, they're still getting the job done, and that's what ultimately matters.
I think they'll continue to be hot for a while now that they're finally getting their act together. They should do well enough to secure home ice for at least the first round of playoffs, and maybe even for the second round. Now that the distractions have been laid aside, and the new guys are getting on board, they ought to be just fine. Which doesn't mean they'll win every game between now and the end of the regular season, just that they'll win most of them.
John Fontana, El Generalissmo Supremo de Raw Charge, Follow @Johnny_fonts .
I expect the team to start chugging again as they had earlier in the season - surprising people by what they do -- I don't expect a one-and-done in the playoffs unless they end up a wild card team and have to play Boston or Pittsburgh first.
At the same time, I am worried about the workload being dumped on Ben Bishop and hope to high hell this doesn't turn into Darren Puppa 2.0 -- a stellar season cut short (and a career as well) by a back injury. I don't know what's worse -- Anders Lindback's play or the organization's faith in Frantz Jean as goalie coach.
David Baldwin, Staff Writer, Follow @dbaldwin1215
It seems the Lightning have shaken whatever curse was left on them coming out of the trade deadline. They seem to be gelling again, and you can tell they're having a lot of fun on this winning streak.
I definitely see them making the playoffs. As John said, if they go up against Montreal, which looks like it will have the second or third seed, I see the Lightning making it past the first round. However, I don't think they are quite ready to take on a team like Boston or Pittsburgh in a series.
If they can keep having fun and looking like a team who wants to win (oh, and quit blowing those damn leads), they will be a force come playoff time.
As always, we welcome your comments below. Stick it in our faces, y'all!