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Time running short if Tampa Bay Lightning is to make NHL playoff run

TAMPA — Don't look at newspaper articles. Don't look at the Internet.

That, Marty St. Louis said, will serve the Lightning best as it starts what it hopes to be a playoff push.

"It's hard, but you have to train your brain to just worry about the one game," the wing said. "If you're constantly looking online or at the paper you'll get outside information you don't need."

Such as this: Tampa Bay, with 46 points, is 12th in the East and nine points behind the Devils for the conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

Or this: The Lightning is fourth in the Southeast Division, nine behind the first-place Capitals.

In other words, defenseman Victor Hedman said, "We have a big mountain to climb to get into a playoff spot."

That is why tonight's game with Washington at the Tampa Bay Times Forum is so important. If the Lightning wins, it will be only seven points behind the Capitals. If it loses, the margin is 11.

"It's a big challenge," Hedman said. "But those are the challenges when you rise from within."

The good news for the Lightning is it got healthier after going into the five-day All-Star break with nine injured players.

Hedman, out 13 games because of a concussion, is expected to play, though his minutes likely will be limited. Wing Ryan Shannon (knee), out 15 games, and wing Tom Pyatt (leg), out three, also should be back.

It was hoped left wing Ryan Malone (upper body) and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron (back) would return. But neither practiced Monday and both said they don't expect to play.

That leaves Tampa Bay with just 10 healthy forwards, so unless J.T. Wyman (pinkie) gets well, a recall from Norfolk — perhaps center Trevor Smith — is likely.

Regardless, the Lightning must continue to do the things that helped it head into the break with a season-best four-game winning streak.

Things such as not falling behind early, a problem that has plagued the team all season, continuing its much-improved defensive zone coverages and getting quality goaltending.

During the winning streak, Mathieu Garon, who starts tonight, and Dwayne Roloson combined for a 2.26 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

Now, if only the power play, in a 5-for-54 slump, can get going.

But coach Guy Boucher wants a narrower focus.

"We didn't look at four games," Boucher said of the streak. "We looked at one game. What can we do to give ourselves the best chance possible to take care of that particular game?"

And even that might not be enough, at least in this scenario:

If the Devils (26-19-3), with the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, go just 17-17-0 in their final 34 games, they will have 89 points. That means the Lightning (21-23-4) would need to go 22-12-0 in its final 34 games to reach 90.

And that doesn't even count the three other teams 12th-place Tampa Bay would have to leapfrog in the standings.

"Just one game at a time," St. Louis said. "You can't worry about the standings now. Just worry about winning games and see where that takes you."

Time running short if Tampa Bay Lightning is to make NHL playoff run 01/30/12 [Last modified: Monday, January 30, 2012 11:19pm]
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