The Tampa Bay Lightning, while probably not playoff bound, could become the spoilers
Here's a scary thought. What if the season is mimicking games? That is, slow start, spotting the rest of the conference the equivalent of two goals, only to come back and get into playoffs at the very last minute?
Think about that for a minute. If you condense the season down to a game, then 27 games and one period equals one period of a game. (Playoffs could be considered overtime.) And since the Lightning finished up Game 48, that would put the Lightning at about eight minutes left in the second period. And being nine points out of eighth in the standings, well, you could call that being down by two or three goals, right?
To take the analogy a step farther, you could look at injuries as penalties. And, in this case, with so many guys having been out, the Lightning will be coming back to full strength pretty soon after the All-Star break. Sure, they'll still be a man short on the bench with Mattias Ohlund likely missing the rest of the season, but it's better than having a bunch of guys stuck in the penalty box, right?
Okay, I realize that this is a stretch. But my point is, the Lightning have just won their last four games - and two of those were on the road. And they're finally starting to click together. Their luck is just starting to turn around, or so it seems.
It also helps that Steven Stamkos is projected to score 55 goals. And Martin St. Louis is starting to score goals again with two goals in his last two games. And what can you say about Teddy Purcell during that last road trip, scoring three goals in those two games?
Then there's Vincent Lecavalier, who is projected to score 33 goals this season. But, he also has a seven-game point streak going on right now. On top of that, he's got a point in all but one game in the month of January, and scoring six goals during that time. A large part of the Lightning's recent turnaround is due to the play of their captain.
Getting a bunch of players back from injury is going to give them a serious mental boost. There are reports that Victor Hedman may return next Tuesday (31 January) against the Washington Capitals, and that Ryan Shannon is expected back soon after as well. Unfortunately, Dana Tyrell is out for the rest of the season due to knee surgery, and Ohlund may not play at all this season. So it's definitely still not all sunlight and roses for this team just yet.
The odds that this team makes playoffs are still awfully slim, however. It's not impossible, of course, but it is extremely unlikely that it will happen. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a great ride if they gave it a serious try. If nothing else, they can be the spoilers of the Eastern Conference, and what Lightning fan wouldn't enjoy that spiteful role?
We'll have to see if the All-Star break helps or hurts them, which is perhaps their biggest question right now.