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Bolts Bounced from Playoff Contention: Fan’s Look
As the results of NHL action emerged over the weekend, both the Lightning and Jets were formally eliminated from a chance at the Eastern Conference playoffs. Though disappointing, this news was not unexpected, and indeed became inevitable after the team dropped the final 2 games of a crucial 3 stop roadtrip last week.
In the triumph over Winnipeg, the Bolts were led by 2 tallies from left wing Ryan Malone, including a eye-catching goal to open the scoring in the 1st period. During that play, Malone attacked the net by impressively flipping a puck over an opposing defenseman.
With 5 scores in the past 2 games, the 32 year-old now possesses 20 goals on the season. As one of the team's more consistent players, Malone has posted at least that much for 3 of his 4 campaigns with Tampa Bay.
Though the Lightning out-shot the division opponent by 39-28, the clubs were tied at 2 after 60 minutes of regulation. Not surprisingly, it was Steven Stamkos who ended the deadlock with a game-winner 45 seconds into overtime.
The goal was Stamkos' NHL-leading 56th on the season. This represents the most goals posted in a single campaign since Alex Ovechkin notched 56 in the 2008-09 season. With 4 games remaining, Stamkos has a chance to reach the magical number of 60. Doing so would certainly add a silver lining to a humbling season for the Bolts.
It would also assist in the argument for giving Stamkos the Hart Memorial Trophy, despite the team's absence from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Further stating his case for MVP, this was the 5th game that the 22 year-old superstar emphatically ended with an overtime score.
The game was additionally notable as the first NHL start for new Lightning goalie Sebastien Caron in 6 years. Caron, who had previously made his debut in relief of Dwayne Roloson, blocked 26 of 28 shots in the win.
For a team that reached game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference finals, there is no way to spin this season as anything other than a disappointment. While injuries to key players like Vincent Lecavalier and Mattias Ohlund certainly hampered their success, the Lightning were primarily held back by a lack of consistent play, which no scheme by Coach Guy Boucher could overcome.
Goal-tending quickly emerged as Tampa Bay's greatest weakness and the club surprisingly failed to address the situation. While Mathieu Garon limitedly exceeded expectations, Roloson was unable to match the brilliance displayed in the 2011 playoffs. In fact, the 42 year-old frequently looked awful and likely faces the end of a long career.
Furthermore, the Bolts were hurt by a lack of speed and physicality, especially on defense. While General Manager Steve Yzerman did act on this issue at the trade deadline, the additions of Brian Lee and Keith Aulie were insufficient to avoid missing the playoffs.
Though substantial work remains in the off-season, the team's efforts are not yet finished on the ice. The Lightning next face the Washington Capitals on Monday, April 2, for the final home game of the season.
The frustrating year then concludes with a 3 game road trip, which will be the squad's final chance to improve its miserable 12-21-5 record away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Yahoo! Sports, ESPN.com.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a hockey fan from Florida, who follows the Tampa Bay Lightning. He also covers Tampa Bay's ECHL minor league affiliate, the Florida Everblades, and co-hosts the Sports Train radio show.
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