Today is a celebration in Tampa; the Lightning organization is commemorating the 10h anniversary of its first Stanley Cup championship. While it might have been fitting (in a rub-it-in-their-face kind of way) to hold the event when the Calgary Flames come to town on April 3rd, holding the event when a key member of the Cup team is in town (in this case, former head coach John Tortorella) is a good thing.
But while the team marks the 10th anniversary of the Cup (...months before the official anniversary of June 7th), there's another anniversary worth noting here in our game day preview: Raw Charge's.
Five years ago today, on the evening the Bolts played another Canadian hockey team (the Toronto Maple Leafs); Raw Charge opened its doors to the public. So, in a way, the Lightning is celebrating two anniversaries this evening. (Note: I could play this up more, and it certainly deserves its own notice that we've reached this milestone, but there are more pressing things at the moment... like a hockey game.)
The Lightning are closing out their six-game homestand and will venture north for a three game set after the game, with games against the Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins forth coming on that trip. The homestand had mixed results, really... Some great efforts but certain distractions very much through the Lightning off; with a win tonight, they'll have taken only 8 of a possible 12 points since March 6th. While that's painful, they are still within striking distance of a better seeding in the playoffs; the Montreal Canadiens are only 2 points in front of the Bolts, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are a single point ahead in the standings... All while the Lightning has two games in hand on both teams.
So while the post-Olympic break swoon, going 1-4-2 before the recent pair of wins) had been demoralizing and damaging, Tampa Bay hasn't junked their place in the playoffs.
And then there's the Canucks...
Things have not gone great for the club in the second half of the season, highlighted (in the worst way possible) by Tortorella's angry fit in Calgary that resulted in a 16 game suspension for him. The Heritage Classic failed to sell out, showing that hockey-mad Canada can actually choose to invest their money in things besides NHL games. Ryan Kessler reportedly sought a trade out of Vancouver (and now he's just plain out via injury) and the Eddie Lack / Roberto Luongo goalie controversy was snuffed out by way of Vancouver unloading their Olympic goalie in favor of the younger (and the cheaper) Lack.
They also played last night in Sunrise, letting a 2-1 lead slip away in the third period, ultimately winning by way of the shootout, but still... That is a much better result compared to the epic collapse suffered at home a week ago against the New York Islanders when the Canucks gave up 7 (s-e-v-e-n!) third period goals to waste a 4-0 lead and squander the game away entirely.
For the Lightning, Ben Bishop will likely be getting the start in goal tonight; he's got 30 wins on the season and has set a franchise record with the mark. His five shutouts this season are two behind Nikolai Khabibulin's 2001-02 franchise record of 7... I've jinxed the notion of Bishop tying the record by mentioning it, but his season has been a great feat regardless of that. His 2.10 goals-against average is ranked 4th among goalies in the NHL, and his .929 save percentage is ranked third among NHL netminders. Not too shabby at all (understatement.)
While we await Teddy Purcell and Nikita Kucherov to both light the lamp again, another Lightning forward is in a huge goal-scoring drought, one that's been highlighted a few times in game threads here on Raw Charge: Richard Panik has not scored a goal since December 19th. That lack-of-production span, as it was his last recorded point, includes a stint in the AHL and the Olympic break (he participated in the winter games with Team Slovakia). All three noted forwards (Kucherov, Panik, and Purcell) have been played up in the past with thanks to their offensive abilities, but with spans of two and three months without a goal... Well, something's got to give. Which forward scores first? It's not that I expect them to score tonight; it's an open ended question. It's
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