Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Playoff Push Starts Now

The difference in size between Marty and Vinny will never cease to amuse me - Getty Images

“We have to make a push now.” 

On Monday, Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier uttered those words, making it clear that the fight to make the playoffs cannot wait any longer. Despite the season not yet reaching its halfway point, the team finds itself battleing for its post-season lives. Going into Tuesday night’s game against the Flyers they found themselves 8 points out of a playoff spot with five teams to hurdle. 

So how did the team, the team that has been disappointing all season long, respond? With a 5-1 win over Philadelphia that eerily resembled a lot of their playoff wins last spring.  How so? Look at the numbers:

Playoffs: The Lightning played 18 games in the postseason and were outshot in 11 of them. Of those 11 games Tampa Bay won 7. 

Tuesday: The Lightning were outshot 32-16.

Playoffs: The Lightning averaged almost 19 blocked shots a game.

Tuesday: They blocked 22 shots (Eric Brewer led the way with 6)

Playoffs: Dwayne Roloson was epic goalie man.

Tuesday: Mathieu Garon was epic le gardien de but stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced.

There was some grumbling from Lightning fans on Wednesday morning about the team being “lucky” and only winning because of a humongous big bad effort from 24/7 sensation Ilya Bryzgalov.  As Tampa Bay area fans are want to do they focused on the negative. What they fail to acknowledge is the positive from the game.  Steven Stamkos scoring as a grinder (rebound in front of the net) and a sniper (one-time roofer from the post), secondary scoring from Steve Downie and Bruno Gervais, and a winning record in the face-off dot (Adam Hall winning 10 out of 15 was huge).

The Lightning played physical, blocked shots and won face-offs. They also took advantage of the limited offensive opportunities that they generated. In short, they won a playoff-like game against a tough opponent.  Being able to sustain that type of intensity for the rest of the season will be near impossible, but right now it’s the only way they can win.  They have to want each game more than the other team.

Not gonna lie - Simmonds handed Brewer his lunch - photo from Getty Images
Having to play that style for 47 more games will wear a team out mentally and physically.  Tuesday night’s game was a prime example.  With the defense already depleted Victor Hedman left in the first period with an undisclosed upper body injury (please don’t be a concussion) and midway through the second period Brewer was knocked woozy after a fight with Wayne Simmonds.  Brewer returned after getting a cut cleaned up, but is now listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury as well.  I’m sure that means Evan Oberg is repacking his suitcase for yet another plane ride from Norfolk.

Should the Lightning suffer any suspensions from the Scott Hartnell/Ryan Malone/Steve Downie spearing/stick-waving/angry words incident then the team will be extremely shorthanded going into a critical stretch of games against teams they’re chasing (Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto).

Tuesday night’s win against the Flyers was a good starting point for the Lightning’s playoff push. A win Thursday night against the reeling Montreal Canadians would be even bigger.   As Lecavalier (who scored a sweet goal at the end of the game on a 2-on-1 with Martin St. Louis) pointed out this team can’t afford to wait around any longer.  They need to get it going now.
Gotta have a Downie photo! - Getty images

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