by Jon Jordan on 03/20/11 at 10:10 AM ET
“Once the playoffs come, those third periods are important. They’re all 2-1, 1-0 games, so we have to get better at them.” - Tampa Bay Lightning captain, Vincent Lecavalier, to the St. Pete Times after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Senators in Ottawa.
A telling quote, really, for a team 2-4-4 in their last 10 games, with just one win in their last nine contests that were decided by a single goal.
Lecavalier’s right, the playoffs are coming. The fifth-place Bolts are 13 points up on ninth-place Carolina, meaning it would take a monumental (almost New York Mets-like) collapse for them to miss out on the postseason.
But he’s also right about the team needing to get better in tight games. They simply haven’t been able to close teams out. What’s more concerning, perhaps, is that three of their last four losses have come to teams well out of playoff contention – Ottawa twice and the Florida Panthers. That’s not always a truthful indicator, as these teams often play much looser once they have little left to shoot for, but it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of the Lightning as a contender at this late stage of the game either.
The good news is that the Lightning have stayed right alongside fourth-place Pittsburgh and remain just shy of a home-ice position, with 89 points to Pittsburgh’s 90. As for the Southeast Division, the gap between Tampa Bay and first-place Washington is still five points, with the Lightning possessing a game in hand.
But as the Bolts return home for four of their next five tilts, sharpening up on their ability to put away an opponent will be high on the priority list and in about a week’s time, we’ll have a much better idea as to what type of improvement the team has shown in short order, as well as how close they are to putting the arduous task of officially nailing down a playoff spot behind them.
With a visit from the New York Islanders on Tuesday, followed up by a home-and-home series with Carolina next weekend, opportunity knocks for the Lightning.
It’s time to put the brakes on their recent downturn, wrap up the near-formality of a playoff berth and get back some of the swagger they appear to have lost of late.
Because, stumbling toward the finish line, giving up third period leads and faltering against lesser opponents, is no way to head into the postseason.
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