Things were looking good for the Tampa Bay Lightning until the last two games. They had gone 7-2-1 and threw themselves back into the playoff mix. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had performed lights-out and the forward core was dominant. Nikita Kucherov was playing especially well with eight goals and seven assists in those ten games.
Unfortunately after such a great streak the Lightning lost back to back games to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals, letting in five goals in each game. The lost game against the Maple Leafs was particularly devastating as they are competing with the Lightning for the last wild card playoff spot in the east. Now the road to the playoffs for the Lightning has gotten significantly more difficult.
The window hasn’t closed just yet however. The Lightning have a pretty good-looking schedule for their last 11 games of the season. They have five games against teams outside the playoffs including two against the Detroit Red Wings and one against the Arizona Coyotes. On top of that they have five games against divisional teams they are competing with for spots. The two games versus the Boston Bruins and the one versus the Maple Leafs on April 6th are the most important games for the Lightning to look forwards to.
Injuries to the top three of the team’s centers in the same game on March 9th put a further damper on the team’s chances. Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Cedric Paquette are all still out with lower body injuries. Rookie Brayden Point has been thrown to the first line with the amount of injuries and has done well, but the lack of depth hurt the team in the losses against the Leafs and Capitals.
Luck may about to change for the Lightning as the injured forwards return. Star forward Steven Stamkos has gotten back on the ice and begun to participate in full team practices and the other injured centers will slowly get back in the lineup. A healthy Tampa Bay Lightning should scare any team facing them for the rest of the season.
Before the two losses I would have said that the Lightning could do some damage in the playoffs if they make it in. And while the losses certainly exposed some weaknesses in the Lightning, if they can get healthy again I would still say that they would be a team to look out for. A highly skilled team with nothing to lose would be a poor prize for whichever team win the Metropolitan Division.
The Lightning were sellers at this year’s trade deadline causing them to be written off as a threat for the rest of the season. However, the team has played better after the deadline and got back into the race. Both the Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders are fighting the Lightning to the last spot in this year’s playoff race.