And so we move forward into an expanse of unknown that is life without a direct tie in the lineup to the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Marty's gone. Now what?
Now we move forward, that's what. Stop dwelling. Happened. Over. Moot. We've got the playoffs to run to and a distraction out of the room (as fans and as a team.)
The end of one era has come and the resumption of the career of one Steven Stamkos begins tonight as #91 was cleared to return to the National Hockey League yesterday. He's back in the lineup tonight with a very, very mixed offensive line combination employed by Jon Cooper in morning practice today:
Nikita Kucherov -- Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan
Alex Killorn - Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Ryan Malone
J.T. Brown -- Nate Thompson - Richard Panik
Ah, yes! We forgot in the hubbub yesterday that Tampa Bay made another transaction of note - Richard Panik was called up from the Syracuse Crunch and Vladislav Namestnikov was sent back to the Crunch. Tampacuse endures and strives on!
But those line combinations - I wouldn't bank on them holding firm during tonight's game against the Buffalo Sabres. Tonight marks an opportunity for the Lightning to experiment within the new normal of having Stamkos back in the lineup, life with #26 and the line combinations. It is the Sabres, after all (with no offense intended toward the club or our friends at Die by the Blade.) Buffalo has had its share of misfortunes and sideshow antics this season, with plenty of transactions to coincide the 2014 NHL trade deadline too.
And while I suggest this is a chance for the Lightning to play around, it's also at their own peril - the Lightning struggled in their first meeting with the Sabres in October twice and winning the first matchup in overtime while edging Buffalo 3-2 in a rematch at Times Palace later in the month. Tampa Bay will see their division rival one more time this season at the tail end of the month, when things have either congealed in with the Lightning, or gone to high hell (and the lows of mire.)
Experimentation, though, is going to happen tonight... Like the experiment of giving Anders Lindback a start in goal. Lindy has been out of NHL action since late January and hasn't exactly had faith put in him by Jon Cooper when he has been healthy, perhaps with good reason as Lindback has struggled in the typical Frantz Jean-coached-goalie kind of fashion: A sub .900 save percentage and an inflated goals-against average (.880 and 3.23, respectively.) While I usually default to former-Raw Charge writer Clare Austin to handle the netminder talk, I will say this - Ben Bishop's success is an aberration among Lightning goalies coached by Frantz Jean since the 2010-11 season when Jean joined the Lightning. There was chatter on Twitter that I was involved with on the eve of the NHL trade deadline about obtaining another goalie as a more capable backup to Bishop. That idea troubled me because one problem remains - Frantz Jean. The Lightning will have to be exceedingly selective in who they employ as a goalie in the future, or perhaps they'll have to change goalie coaches to get the most out of a wider assortment of goaltenders, utilizing talents instead of trying to pigeon-hole them into a single teaching mindset. But, alas, I digress. This goes on too wide a tangent.
Cory Conacher makes his return to Tampa as a member of the Sabres tonight; he's been promised top-6 minutes in Buffalo after seeing his playing time and opportunities suffocated in Ottawa. We wish him well (...and wish he had fallen to Tampa on the waiver wire and ended up claimed here.)
This is the first of fourteen(!!) games at home to close out the season of the 20 left for the Lightning, with two six-game homestands taking place in that span. This is the time to get everyone's focus back on what we dwelt on all season: winning and contention in the face of adversity. The Lightning have survived and thrived up until that little distraction that played out during and after the Olympics, time to put in the past.
It's over, done with, moot. We move forward.
Other Game Coverage:
- Yahoo! Sports
- Full coverage on SB Nation