Lightning entering make-or-break road trip
The time is now for the Lightning to make a run.
You can argue it might already be too late. Tampa Bay's chances of making the playoffs drop with each passing week, down to 18-percent, per blog Game Score, which used 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the season to project point totals.
But this six-game, 13-day road trip, which begins Monday against the Kings, could be a make-or-break moment for the preseason Stanley Cup favorites.
Gone is any margin for error. There's no room for moral victories, like playing better Thursday and Friday, when the Lightning (20-20-4) got two of four possible points in a two-game homestand.
"The results are all that matters," center Brian Boyle said. "We need to change our attitude a little bit, kind of find our mojo, carry ourselves with a little bit more confidence. We can score quick goals. We can come from behind, jump out to leads and bury teams. We've done that in the past with this group.
"We have a really long road trip coming up. We should be greedy, should try to win every game and come back (to Tampa) with a different tone. A little bit of strut in our step."
The Lightning found its mojo around this time last season, winning 20 of 25 games from Jan. 8 to Mar. 5. That was just enough to make the playoffs, Tampa Bay clinching its spot in Game No. 80. Does this team have that type of run in them? It's hard to envision, especially with the Lightning having won back-to-back games just twice in the past two months, its longest streak four wins Nov. 14-19. And Tampa Bay is just 2-8-1 against Western Conference teams, which it faces in five of the next six. It is 2-7-2 in its last 11 road games.
The Lightning is fortunate the Flyers haven't pulled away for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia's recent slide - 1-3-1 i its last five - have allowed the Lightning to stay within six points (while holding two games in hand). Toronto holds a four point lead over Tampa Bay for the third spot in the Atlantic, but has three games in hand and is on a roll, winning eight of its last 10 (8-1-1).
The odds are the Flyers will get out of its funk eventually, but there are still three teams between them and the Lightning (Carolina, Florida and Ottawa). And they're not all going to lose at the same time. This is why the Lightning needs to make up some ground now. It won't be easy against the Kings, which is barely holding on to the second wild card spot in the West, and Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Tuesday. On Thursday is defending Western Conference champs San Jose. Then comes Arizona and always tough Blackhawks in Chicago before finishing in Sunrise against the Panthers.
They always say getting at least half as many possible points on road trip is pretty good, which would mean six of 12. But Tampa Bay could certainly use more.
The Capitals have won nine straight. Philadelphia won 10 in a row earlier in the year. Columbus, of course, won 16. Does the Lightning have the confidence, the consistency, to pull off a long run?
"Confidence is fleeting," Boyle said. "It comes and goes. It's just a mental thing. You've got to be stronger and will yourself to be better....(Confidence) comes and goes, it happens for individuals, happens to teams. It's like a poison, you've got to get rid of it. You can't just wait for that bad break to happen. You've got to be proactive and make the breaks for yourself."