Flashes of brilliance and far-too-long moments of listlessness. That surmises the Tampa Bay Lightning's effort on Sunday versus the Florida Panthers. That surmises several recent efforts in fact -- where the Lightning play to win only a fraction of the 60 minutes of hockey.

Tonight they go into a must-win game versus Atlanta, and while I'd like to believe they'll have their heads out of their asses for this one -- I will not be surprised if we see another laying-of-an-egg effort in the closing minutes of the game. If not sooner.

It's just been that kind of season for the Lightning, where there win total is nice but there effort has been half of what is expected from Stanley Cup Champions. It's been disappointing to see the Bolts playing as if they are on a perpetual penalty kill against the likes of the Panthers, or the Thrashers or the Capitals, the Penguins or other bottom feeder teams (no offense intended to those fans) who are just trying to play respectably. It's as if Vincent Lecavalier, Vaclav Prospal, Daryl Sydor and others feel like they must give the other team the benefit of the doubt... They need to go easy and maybe the rest of the Bolts will play well enough that they might win -- or get a point by going to overtime.

In other words, safe is the status-quo right now instead of safe is death.

I harped about play versus the Thrashers last week (and the nameless culprit of that I cite in my post was Daryl Sydor) that the Lightning didn't play to put the game away. They played to just go through the motions until time expired. They played not to defeat the Thrashers, but to make a showing... Win or lose, they'd make it to the evening news and that was good enough.

That's never good enough.

You could make all the excuses in the world for the Bolts: The lockout had players out of condition, the new rules reak havoc on the players, the schedule was poorly put together, the Olympic break messed up team momentum, the Olympics were a drain on key players on the team, the injury bugs finally showed up, etc, etc, etc... A whole lot of excuses, but none that excuse listlessness on ice. A whole lot of excuses, but none that forgive them for playing for quality tee-times at the golf course.
Safe is death, gentlemen. If you're saving your best for the playoffs -- there's no time like the present to actually start doing your best... Especially since a playoff spot still hangs in the balance.