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)

Nine points out of playoff spot, Tampa Bay Lightning players believe a postseason place is realistic

Goalie Mike Smith is a big reason the Lightning isn’t in a deeper hole in the standings.


Goalie Mike Smith is a big reason the Lightning isn’t in a deeper hole in the standings.

TAMPA — Among the handful of Lightning players queried Monday, no one said it was crazy to believe they could make the playoffs.

On the other hand, what else were they going to say?

"If we didn't believe it," forward Ryan Craig said, "I don't think we'd be professionals."

Still, with a 9-5-1 streak and victories in five of seven games, Tampa Bay has forced the league to take notice. And only nine points behind the Hurricanes for the East's final playoff spot, it has given itself, besides pride, something for which to compete.

"We've gotten ourselves into the conversation," Craig said. "Now, we have to get ourselves into the top eight."

It has been a notable turnaround for a franchise that for a time this season was the league's worst offensively, had trouble holding teams to fewer than 30 shots and, if not for goaltender Mike Smith, would have been in a hole so deep, this conversation would not be taking place.

Things aren't perfect. Teams still pin Tampa Bay in its end for extended periods, the defense needs upgrades, secondary scoring still surprises when it shows up, and seven home victories are a league low.

But coach Rick Tocchet and staff have gotten the players to buy into a "play as five" system. Preparation is better, and perhaps most important, the team is playing with confidence.

Can it win enough to get to the postseason?

"It's realistic," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "Nine points is a lot, but if we keep playing the way we have, keep pushing and taking it game by game, then you never know what can happen."

The task is daunting.

Consider: If the Hurricanes, eighth in the East with 51 points, go just 17-17 in their final 34 games, they will have 85 points. The Lightning, 12th with 42 points, would have to go 22-13 in its final 35 games to reach 86.

It likely will have to do even better because of what the teams between Carolina and Tampa Bay might do.

"The thing the players have to understand," Tocchet said, "is that in the second half, everybody pushes harder."

A good start is a 3-1 mark in a stretch of 17 games of which 13 are at the St. Pete Times Forum, including tonight against the Canadiens. And remember that the Capitals last season won 11 of their final 12, including the last seven, to overcome a seven-point deficit to Carolina and win the Southeast.

The key is minigoals, Tocchet said: breaking the schedule into five-game segments, or even two- and three-game segments, and trying to win those.

Better yet, Tocchet said, "the first period against Montreal."

Bigger picture, "we're doing a lot of teaching and doing a lot of video and practices at a high tempo, pushing and pushing guys," Tocchet said. "We got off to such a bad start … you can't let your foot off the gas pedal."

"This is what hockey is all about," Smith said, "making a push for the playoffs and guys elevating their games to new levels. If everybody does that and worries about themselves and gives a great effort, I think you'll see us there in the end."

What else was he going to say?

Nine points out of playoff spot, Tampa Bay Lightning players believe a postseason place is realistic 01/26/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 12:26am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Muslim faith greater than fear for Wharton's Rania Samhouri (w/video)


    TAMPA — Rania Samhouri graduated Monday night from Wharton High School, and many times throughout the ceremony she flashed back to a moment that changed her life.

     Rania Samhouri stretches after track practice on Monday April 24, 2017 at Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida. Rania, who is Muslim, recently started wearing her hijab during track competitions. She graduates from Wharton this year and will attend University of South Florida on scholarship next year.
  2. Bucs' Doug Martin relying on strength from drug rehab to power his return


    TAMPA — He would not talk about the drug he abused. He would not identify the rehab facility he entered in January or how long he was there.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin participates in an "open OTA practice" at One Buc Place, the team's training facility, in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
  3. NCAA: Former USF basketball assistant gave improper benefits


    TAMPA — Former USF men's basketball assistant coach Oliver Antigua provided impermissible benefits, including lodging at his home, for two prospective student-athletes while they received on-campus tutoring, according to findings reported to the school by the NCAA.

  4. Back to .500, Rays feel ready to roll (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Who wants to be mediocre? Middling? Average? Run-of-the-mill?

    Rays catcher Jesus Sucre tags out the Angels’ Mike Trout trying to score from second base after a perfect peg from rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. in the first inning.
  5. Rays journal: Steven Souza Jr. preserves shutout with perfect throw

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The closest the Angels came to scoring off RHP Matt Andriese in Thursday's 4-0 Rays victory occurred in the first inning, when DH Mike Trout tried to score from second on a single to right. But the throw from RF Steven Souza Jr. was on the money, and Trout was out.

    "That …

    Colby Rasmus collects high fives and shoulder rubs after driving in all four of the Rays’ runs in their victory Thursday. Rasmus had two run-scoring hits a day after hitting a home run.