The Tampa Bay Lightning has put together a remarkable first half. They are second in the division and securely in a playoff spot all without their best player Steven Stamkos. This is all great but it will not mean anything if the Bolts do not win tonight against Detroit.
All games are important as points are on the line, but certain games can be used as a signpost to explain what happens with the derailment starts.
This is why they need to end the first half on a win among a few reasons. The first being, they need breathing space from Toronto and Montreal. They only lead those teams by a few points and ending the first half on a loss with no points will let those teams back into the playoff hunt.
The second reason is that this team needs to avoid a three-game losing streak that will stick with them during the whole break. Ending things on a positive note will be far more beneficial mentally for this young squad as they can have a positive start to the second half and go for the division.
The ultimate goal is the playoffs but this team has shown the capability of hanging with the “big boys,” their record against the West, arguably the better league, proves that. In reality, they can make not only a run to the playoffs but also a deep run in the playoffs.
It’s still far away but their play over the course of the first half has shown that capability.
Lately, the team has been looking tired of late having spent most of the New Year on the road and very sporadic time at home. They also have been struggling against teams that haven’t really had a great first half like the New York Islanders and the Leafs.
These teams have come on a losing streak and snap it against the Bolts. Ben Bishop and Valtteri Filppula are out and Filppula will be out until after the break with a displaced fracture in his ankle. Every team goes through difficulties and the Lightning has stood to the occasion in this first half.
Reinforcements in Stamkos, Bishop and Filppula will return after the Olympic break but for now the current squad will need to do what they have done best—rise to the occasion.
They need to do it one more time and not look ahead to the break. Don’t let this first half be awash with the negativity of a three game losing streak that will stick with them for the next three weeks.
The message is clear: Do not put the cart before the horse and finish strong.