Do the math; Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning preview

WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
MEDIA: Versus (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)

Say it after me: A negative plus a negative equals a positive.

A negative plus a negative equals a positive.

Now why am I honing your basic math skills in a preview of tonight's match-up between the Lightning and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks? Things are glum in Hockey Bay, with the Bolts on an underwhelming 3-4-3 stretch that's seen key loses (overtime or otherwise) to the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadiens. Throw in the lack of scoring from Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Simon Gagne and just about everyone else and you see the primary negative.

It can be looked at as the second February / March in a row things have fallen apart. Can you remember last season at this time? The Tocchet-versus-Lawton disarray over the firing of Wes Walz and hiring of then Norfolk-Admirals assistant Jim Johnson. The Bolts went on -- punctuated by the Olympic break, mind you -- a 2-11-1 free-fall from February 11th, 2010 thru March 21, 2010.

The reaction to reading those sad numbers is probably something akin to, "Ugh, don't remind me!"... But I have to remind you. I just have to. That's the secondary negative to look at. That's an attempt to put things in perspective. Guy Boucher did the same thing yesterday during a team meeting with his players.

"The question of perception is very important so we don't sink with our attitude," Boucher said. "We have to fight negativity right now with our enthusiasm. It's important not just to say it but to do it. So (Tuesday) we went on the ice with big smiles on our faces. We're in a great spot, fighting for something we wanted to fight for all year long."

It's not all roses right now, but even the bad of the moment should be looked at as the good of the turn around for this franchise. Acknowledge the recent past, acknowledge the current slide, now lets move forward.

Speaking of the turn around of the franchise, I've overlooked a very important anniversary we just crossed -- it's been a year since Jeffrey Vinik closed on his purchase of the Tampa Bay Lightning from OK Hockey, and assumed full control of the franchise. Since then, the hockey world has seen one of the grand franchise turnarounds in league history (on ice and off).

And former team ownership? Len Barrie got in trouble with the law, and Oren Koules got Charlie Sheen. Few things could make me sympathize with former ownership, but Koules having had to deal with that hot, oozing mess of a celebrity is damn well close.

So, just to be official before getting back to the matter at hand: Happy (belated) anniversary, Mr. Vinik, and thank you.

We now resume our regularly scheduled hockey coverage.

The Blackhawks roll into Tampa tonight after suffering a loss to the Florida Panthers last night -- their very first since February 18th. In another twist on perception, people may assume the Blackhawks have struggled this season, after all they were out of the playoff picture just a few weeks back...

But like I said, that's a matter of perception. The Hawks are playing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference where parity has reared it's head. There is all of a nine-point difference between 3rd in the conference and 11th. The only absolutes in teh standings are 1st place (the Vancouver Canucks and their 95 points) and last place (the Edmonton Oilers, once again in the cellar with 54 points).

In that horse race, the Blackhawks cannot afford to get caught vacationing in the Florida sun two nights in a row. Both of their goalies should be considered rested -- Corey Crawford got chased by the Florida Panthers, giving up three goals on eight shots. Marty Turco faced all of seven shots in relief work, stopping them all.

On special teams, the Blackhawks are converting 23.7% of their power plays, putting them at #2 overall in the NHL.  The Bolts are 6th with a 20.4% conversion rate.  On the other side of the coin, the Blackhawks penalty kill is 26th int he NHL with a 78.6 kill-rate.  Teh Bolts PK is at 13th now, stopping 82.7% of opposing power plays.

Mike Lundin will indeed be back on the blueline for the Bolts tonight. Of course, we noted yesterday that with the good comes the bad -- Randy Jones is out with a high ankle sprain.

Raw Charge's game thread goes live at 7PM eastern time, won't you stop by?

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