The last time the Tampa Bay lightning and New Jersey Devils met on February 26th, Martin St. Louis wasn't just assuming the mantle of de facto on-ice leader while Vincent Lecavalier continued his hiatus with his non-displaced fracture in his hand. He was thrilling fans with his second hat trick of the month in the 4-3 victory.
But the world has moved on since then. The Bolts faded from contention (after clinging to it despite so many obstacles - injuries, inconsistent play, injuries, roster changes, injuries) and now are playing for next season. The Devils, on the other hand, are tuning up for the 2012 NHL playoffs. Though their berth is not clinched, it's just a matter of time before it is. The Devils are likely to be seeded 6th in the Eastern Conference and will be pitted up against the winner of the Southeast Division (the Florida Panthers seem to have this locked up, by way of divisional ineptitude).
But before the Devils get to the playoffs - where shoot-out victories aren't a possibility - they need to get through their final five games of the season. If the Bolts performances in Philadelphia (the unlikely victory) and Boston (lasting as long as they did) show us anything, it's that Tampa Bay does not plan to go quietly into that dark night that is the off-season.
For the first time since mid-February, Vincent Lecavalier will be in the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup. It's only one re-enforcement for a road-weary team, but it may prove to be just enough of a morale boost to get breathe some extra life into this team.
Don't let the 5-2 final fool you, the reason the Lightning were not blown out in Boston on Tuesday was Dwayne Roloson. Again. Roloson has seen resurgence in the wake of Mathieu Garon's injury. It seemed like the Bolts had no faith in him when Garon went down, calling up Norfolk Admirals goalie Dustin Tokarski and starting him over the 42-year-old.
Maybe that was a wake-up call for Dwayne, but we can all say Roloson regressed this season in comparison o last season... And the reasons why are enigmatic.
But a quote from Roli in the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday seemed to say what has been in the back of some fans minds for a while: perhaps it's a coaching thing?
"I like Frantz (Jean) a lot. He's a great person and a great guy and obviously knows a lot about the game or he wouldn't be coaching at this level," Roloson said before Tuesday's loss to the Bruins. "For me, it was just some of the stuff he was doing, it didn't quite work into my game. ... I had to get back doing the things I know work and allowed me to play as long as I have."
There was a statement in the second half of last season by Coach Guy Boucher about allowing Roloson to do his own thing, and how it was tough to ask him to change his ways mid-season. He came into Tampa playing his way, and he brought success to Tampa playing his way. Starting a new season with coaching in TB able to work with him from the start... Things changed.
If the Roloson of old continues to play his way, The Lightning closing out the season with a run is possible. Sure, Sebastien Caron should get a start next week in the back-to-back games the Bolts play against Toronto and Montreal... But if Roloson is flourishing because of playing his way, independent of instructions... well, that leads to questions. More questions than I'd like to discuss in this preview.
J.T. Brown has passport issues, he's still in Chicago (where he had met with suitors before signing with the Lightning yesterday). There's been no word if this will affect the timeline for his NHL debut (planned for Saturday, at home, against Winnipeg).
Nate Thompson remains out. He'd been hoping to return tonight. Trevor Smith remains with the club in Thompson's stead.
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