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Canes, Bolts Present Huge Tests for Each Other this Weekend (and a Quick Thought on Boston/Montreal)

For the Carolina Hurricanes, tonight’s game in Tampa against the Lightning, the first half of a home-and-home between the two clubs, is about picking up two points and doing their part to stay alive in the race for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The ‘Canes trail eighth-place Buffalo by three points as each team prepares for its 74th game of the year tonight, with the Sabres hosting the Florida Panthers.

For the home squad, it’s about picking up the pieces and restoring whatever’s been lost of late. The Lightning have managed just a single regulation win this month and have seen their prolific offense dry up, averaging only 2.18 goals per game in March. Take out last Monday’s six-goal outburst in Toronto and that number shrinks below two – unfathomable, really, for a team that had averaged over three tallies per game not all that long ago.

Tampa Bay’s miserable March has included a quartet of losses to also-rans most recently, falling to Ottawa twice, Florida and the New York Islanders, but tonight, the Lightning will be forced to match the intensity level of a team still very much alive in the playoff race and combat the desperation that comes with so much on the line.

The Lightning aren’t in any real danger of missing the post-season – in fact, with a pair of regulation wins over Carolina tonight and tomorrow, they’ll close the book on that remote possibility outright – but, with their production having plummeted so severely these last few weeks, there’s no doubting the very real threat of an early playoff exit. With nine games remaining on the regular season docket, Tampa has some time to figure things out but, the worse this gets, the harder that will become, meaning the time to put an end to their current struggles is now.

All of that is far easier said than done, of course, especially when facing a team like Carolina with everything to play for. That the Bolts couldn’t run with the loosey goosey likes of the Islanders, Senators and Panthers lately is one thing. Those teams haven’t had much to lose in quite some time. But if they can’t put forth their “A” game effort (or whatever that is, exactly, without the services of some injured key cogs) against a club already virtually in the midst of their own elimination round, the perception that this Lightning team isn’t as well-equipped as once thought could quickly become reality.

Granted, a little perspective here goes a long way. Unquestionably, the Lightning’s unexpected mid-season reign atop the Southeast Division raised the bar, in terms of expectations here. General manager Steve Yzerman’s aggressive acquisition of goaltender Dwayne Roloson on New Year’s Day was the first real indicator of as much. But remembering the clearly established pre-season expectations of marked improvement for the club and getting back into the playoffs for the first time since 2007 brings one back to reality. That first goal has already been accomplished; the second, undoubtedly, is coming soon.

Still, the recent struggles are difficult to swallow for all involved. Injuries and slumps have pilfered some of the promise that this team was showing as recently as a few weeks ago and that always poses a frustrating “What if?” With Steve Downie close to a return and Ryan Malone not far behind, however, the dynamic of this team could very well change in short order. And, again, there’s time left to regain some solid momentum heading into the second season – but not much.

As far as time goes, the Hurricanes don’t have much wiggle room either, nor do they have an enviable schedule down the stretch. Beyond the pair of meetings with the Lightning, Carolina has three more back-to-back series on the slate, with only a single game remaining that isn’t directly preceded or followed by another. And their run of opponents is wrought with playoff-bound clubs, with Tampa three times overall, Washington, Montreal, Buffalo and Detroit in addition to spoiler types like the Isles and Atlanta.

Think the ‘Canes are be in make-or-break mode?

So, there’s the challenge at hand for the Lightning: Figure themselves out and best the desperation level of a team that should come out flying.

For the Hurricanes, win at all costs, one game at a time (and then do it again – and again…)

This weekend’s double-dip between Tampa Bay and Carolina will tell us a lot about both clubs

Playoff hockey, anyone?

***

A resounding “Boo, hiss!” is in order from me to the Montreal Canadiens, who are no doubt getting railroaded by their own writers this morning and certainly don’t need the pile-on from my paltry existence… But, guess what? They’re getting it anyway.

What the HELL was that? 7-0?!?!?!?

It’s one thing if you didn’t dare get after Zdeno Chara - I can’t blame you and I warned of as much yesterday - but after what’s happened between you and Boston lately and all the talk and hard feelings and insinuations of retribution, to come out and get absolutely blasted is beyond embarrassing.

I have to ask, as I did on Twitter last night, did the Habs even have a reason for showing up in Boston?

You start getting pasted like that, in the first game after your teammate got the kind of noggin-knocker he did in the last meeting, you gotta do something - anything - and there was NOTHING positive for the Canadiens last night.

Nothing except the final buzzer.

Tuck tail, go home, say not a word.

Shameful.

JJ

jj@kuklaskorner.com
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Filed in: NHL Teams, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: dwayne+roloson, ryan+malone, steve+downie, steve+yzerman, zdeno+chara

Comments

Jon Jordan's avatar

Call me a dunce. (I’m doing so anyway.)

For the second time in about a week, I’ve posted a Southeast-related story in the wrong place.

PK provides me with my very own roof overhead and I continue to sleep in the yard.

My Dad did this, he tells me, when he returned home from the Army. Hmmm…

This should have gone here: http://www.kuklaskorner.com/index.php/bose/ but it’s too late now. Don’t want to hit people with a double-dose of JJ drivel.

Apologies.

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 03/25/11 at 11:24 AM ET

SYF's avatar

RE:  MTL/BOS.  It’s definitely a rivalry that needed to be renewed.  I will presume that if these two teams ever meet in the playoffs, it’s a different story.

Posted by SYF from The Revenge of Johnny E on 03/25/11 at 03:17 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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