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Free Ride Over? Written by Laci Bloomers - April 20th, 2009

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been, by anyone's standards, have been on quite a roll since just before the trade deadline this season.

After going an incredible 26 games without either winning or losing back to back games, a couple of timely trades and a very favorable schedule have seen the club win 18 of 23 games. 

Most experts point to a schedule that has only seen the Lightning play a couple of games in the span against teams with a better record than they have, providing credence that the CMHL scheduler might just be a retiree living the southern USA.

The free ride has just ended, and Tampa Bay will now be tested in their final 5 games on how competitive they really are. 

 

The proof will start in their next contest, when the team travels to Columbus on Wednesday night to play the CMHL leading Blue Jackets.  This will be their toughest test since before the deadline when they were schooled by Buffalo 5-1 in Florida.

The remainder of the season does not get any easier, as the Bolts play Division leading Carolina 3 times in their last 5 games, although all 3 are in Tampa Bay.  The other game is in Detroit.

The players like the make-up of their roster in Tampa Bay.  Rod Brind'Amour, who is leading by example, says that any doubting Thomas' must just look at the teams' defensive record this season.

Brind'Amour has a point, as the Lightning have the best Goals Against Average in the Eastern Conference, and sit 4th in the CMHL, at 2.33.  The addition of Martin Brodeur and then Ed Jovanovski have made a huge difference the past month or so.  Brodeur sits 3rd in the CMHL in goals against, while leading the curcuit with 7 shut outs.  He is also approaching 40 victories, and in fact is putting up the best numbers he has registered since Season 1.

Brind'Amour has proven to have been a huge acquisition as well.  Acquired earlier in the season from the Capitals, the captain has scored 37 goals and 79 points to lead the team.  He has prospered with the addition of several other forwards who have helped spread the scoring out, with center Bobby Holik likely the biggest aquisition.  Holik came over from San Jose along with blueliner Roman Hamrlik for former captain Mike Modano and Kurt Sauer. 

Daymond Langkow and Mike Fisher have helped provide great depth down the middle.  Langkow was acquired early in the season along with Boyd Gordon from Buffalo for Jonathan Cheechoo.  Langkow was then ironically dealt to the Islanders with Seve Downie in the trade that saw Mike Knuble come to Tampa along with Rob Neidermayer and prospect Michael Stone.  Langkow was then reacquired from Minnesota in a deal that saw Neidermayer move to the Wild.

With a complete transformation during the season, the Lightning are hungry to prove it has not been a fluke.  The next 5 games leading up to the playoffs could go a long way towards doing just that.  The Lightning have played themselves into a battle for home ice advantage as they have closed within a single point of Montreal in the East, although the Canadiens have a pair of games in hand.  Regardless, it looks as if the Lightning can focus on the last few games of the season and a first round match-up with Montreal.

With the run they have had to close the season, there are now expectations around this team, and nothing short of playoff success will satisfy that.  They are poised to break the team record of 38 wins (they have 37) and 89 points (they have 87) they have obtained each of the past two seasons.  They will have to earn it, but then if they do not reach that they can not expect to last long in the post-season.

- Laci Bloomers reporting -

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Comments:

Wednesday night's matchup between TB and CMB is going to be awesome. My team is just hitting its stride again, I've won my last 3 games (two against a very tough CHI team) by a combined score of 13-3. Battle of the Titans!

Written By: habsfan93 (2009-04-20 18:39:03)

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