The Tampa Bay Lightning get to experience the actually season of winter during the next three games - spent in the northeast US as the team visits the New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. The chill they feel isn't necessarily Jack Frost nipping at them, but the warmth of the season being whisked away.
Tuesday night's loss to the Los Angeles Kings put the hopeful Lightning back into the reality of the moment: The team is a far cry from the playoffs, and it's just a matter of time before the door to the 2012 NHL playoffs closes entirely for them. Sports Club Stats puts the Lightning's playoff chances down to 5.4% as of Wednesday night.
Tuesday night's loss wasn't a poorly played affair, however. That's reason to keep hopes up and expectations high. Sure, goaltending wasn't all that and the Lightning Power Play was a natural disaster all unto itself... But the rest of the game was an even matched affair with a non-conference opponent that could have gone either way. Jonathan Quick, the Kings goalie, proved why he's one of the league's best goalies this season, turning away the Lightning and their fast break attempts time and time again.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will attempt to conjure up the same type of frustrations tonight for the Rangers. Hank's on top of the NHL in save percentage (.938) and has a Goals Against Average of 1.80. He's, like Quick, has six shutouts this season - leading the league in the category.
But it's not like the Lightning haven't solved him this season.
You do remember that bleak day in early December, don't you? At least it started bleakly with the news Martin St. Louis had taken a puck to the face and would not play in his 500th consecutive NHL game. Do you remember the game that night? How goat Dominic Moore - the man who maimed Marty - scored the game tying and shootout winning goals? Yeah, that one... They got by Hank Lundqvist in that one.
The Rangers are in the driver's seat of the Eastern Conference right now. They're three points in front of the Boston Bruins for the Conference lead; they're four points in front of the Philadelphia Flyers for the Atlantic Division lead. They trail the Detroit Red Wings by three points in a race for the President's Trophy, and the Rangers have the advantage of 4 games in-hand (Detroit has played 55 games, the Rags have played 51). While New York is celebrating one championship this week, you have to think that the city has hopes for a far more glorious trophy within the next few months.
But the Lightning has their own intimidating factor on ice. Number Ninety-One, Steven Stamkos. Spicoli has reached the 35 goal mark, five short of 40 for the third consecutive season. He's 32 points shy of reaching 90 for the third consecutive season as well. With 30 games left this season, the feat is a formidable one, but not entirely impossible. He is, of course, on top of the league in goals right now (five better than Toronto's Phil Kessel), near the top in points (he trails Evgeni Malkin by four points for the league lead).
Marty St. Louis is seven assists shy of his sixth consecutive season of 40+ assists.
Matthieu Garon is expected to be back in net for the Lightning in goal tonight.
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