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Lightning Snap Back to Reality in Loss to Leafs

Wednesday night’s game was more than just a loss. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs was also a fitting microcosm of their entire season.

In this tumultuous shortened 2013 campaign, the Bolts have struggled with inconsistency, shaky goaltending and overall ineptitude. The game in Toronto had it all.

The Lightning started off falling behind 4-0 (never a good thing). Tampa Bay has also fallen behind in the standings because of extended periods of losing this season.

Joffrey Lupul’s game-opening goal (3) never would have happened without Sami Salo’s inability to successfully get the puck out of the Lightning zone. But just as it has all season, the defensive zone turnover led to a goal almost immediately.

Dion Phaneuf’s goal (5) 52 seconds into the second period came from the blue line on a shot that goalie Mathieu Garon should have stopped 999 out of 1000 times. He nonchalantly tried to make a glove save as the puck went in between his head and hand, exhibiting the Lightning’s struggle to find consistent goaltending this season.

Tyler Bozak’s goal (8) came when Matt Carle fell asleep defensively around the net, and Bozak was left alone to put the puck in. It was the type of play that probably reminded general manager Steve Yzerman how desperate the need for solid defensemen is for Tampa Bay.

Coach Guy Boucher even let Anders Lindback get in on the action, as he allowed a goal of his own to Nikolai Kulemin (4) less than 30 seconds after replacing Garon.

And to bring things full circle, Radko Gudas (1) and Cory Conacher (8) scored in the third to cut the lead to 4-2. The young guns from the Syracuse Crunch did too little too late, showing flashes of the team’s potential.

In summary, the Lightning struggled in net and defensively, falling really far behind. Then the influx of young talent tried to bring them back, but it was already too late for the team’s chances.

Sound familiar?

This game represented the ebb and flow of the Lightning’s position in the standings this season. And just as this game showed, it may be getting to be too late for the Lightning to mount a comeback and make the playoffs.

Not to mention, it was against a team riding a five-game losing streak. The Lightning have become the team people like to play when they need to get out of a losing streak.

There is no doubt that there is talent on this team, but as far as this season goes, it seems just about over. I won’t write the obituary just yet, but if Yzerman began dealing for young prospects and defensemen about now, I don’t think there would be much to complain about.

Lightning Snap Back to Reality in Loss to Leafs
Cody Franson #4 of the Toronto Maple Leafs checks Ondrej Palat #74 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during NHL game action March 20, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
(Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

By the way, the loss was just the first game of a three-game road trip. The Bolts will play the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. The inopportunely timed back-to-back may just put a lid on the Lightning’s season.

As for right now, though, puck drop is at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday in Ottawa.

The Maple Leafs will face the second game of a back-to-back Thursday night in New York against the Buffalo Sabres. That game starts at 7 p.m. ET.

As for the Lightning, enjoy as much of Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier as you can because there have been grumblings of tossing them up to help move the team’s future forward.

Stay tuned.

Taylor Gaines
Tampa Bay Lightning fan pursuing a career as a journalist at the University of Florida.
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