Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lightning season could hinge on this six-game trip

LOS ANGELES — The time is now for the Lightning to make a run.

You can argue that it might already be too late. Tampa Bay's chance of making the playoffs drops with each passing week. It is down to 18 percent, says the blog Game Score, which used 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the season to project team point totals.

But the six-game, 13-day road trip that begins today against the Kings could be a make-or-break moment for the preseason Stanley Cup favorites.

"These games will have a huge impact on our season," associate coach Rick Bowness said, "so we've got to make sure we come out of this with our heads above water."

Gone is any margin for error. There's no room for moral victories, like playing better, as it did Thursday and Friday against the Sabres and Blue Jackets, and 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."

The Lightning found its mojo around this time last season, winning 20 of 25 games from Jan. 8 to March 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 it? 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 is four wins, from Nov. 14-19. And it is just 2-8-1 against Western Conference teams, which it faces in five of the next six games. It is 2-7-2 in its past 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 in its past five — has allowed the Lightning to stay within six points (while holding two games in hand). Toronto, winner of eight of its past 10, holds a four-point lead over Tampa Bay for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, with three games in hand.

The odds are the Flyers will get out of their 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 ground now.

That won't be easy against the Kings, who are barely holding on to the second wild-card spot in the West, and Pacific Division-leading Anaheim on Tuesday. On Thursday is defending West champion San Jose. Then come Arizona, Chicago and Florida.

Conventional wisdom is that getting at least half of the available points on a road trip is pretty good, which would mean six of 12 on this trip. But Tampa Bay needs more. It won't have wing Ryan Callahan (hip), who the Lightning announced Sunday will be out four weeks. Wing J.T. Brown (upper body), who practiced Sunday in a red noncontact jersey, could return soon, with Joel Vermin called up from AHL Syracuse on Sunday as insurance.

It's just six games, but this stretch could go a long way in determining what's left of a once-promising season.

Bad Callahan news

The wing will miss another four weeks because of his hip. 5C

TODAY: at Kings, 4, Los Angeles, Fox Sports Sun, 970-AM

Lightning season could hinge on this six-game trip 01/15/17 [Last modified: Sunday, January 15, 2017 10:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bills' comeback against Bucs a win for the process


    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It hasn't taken Sean McDermott long to understand how to play to his base. Asked if the Bills had "gotten away with one" Sunday, the first-year coach gushed about his team reflecting the character of the town.

    Under first-year coach Sean McDermott, the Bills are 3-0 at home for the first time in six years. “I love playing here,” he says.
  2. No. 18 UCF closes in on USF, which drops to No. 17


    USF remained ahead of UCF in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released Sunday — just barely.

  3. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.
  4. Jones: Where are the difference-makers on the Bucs defense?


    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — They can't tackle. They can't cover. They can't pressure the quarterback, let alone sack him.

    Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) scrambles past Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (98) during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Bucs-Bills journal: Breakout game for Bucs tight end O.J. Howard


    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It's obscured by the final score and a disappointing loss, but Bucs rookie tight end O.J. Howard had a breakout game Sunday, exceeding his season totals for catches and touchdowns in one afternoon.

    Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) celebrates a touchdown catch with quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]