The Tampa Bay Lightning are fighting their hardest to keep their playoff hopes alive. Written off by most people at the beginning of January -- yes, including me -- the Bolts have surged recently after briefly flirting with last place in the Eastern Conference. They currently have a five-game winning streak, their longest of the season, and they're sitting only nine points out of a playoff spot.
In other divisions, the Bolts would have little to no realistic chance of making a surge for the playoffs. But the Florida Panthers are currently in first in the Southeast Division with only 57 points, the same amount of points as the No. 8 seed New Jersey Devils. The Lightning would have to climb over at least one of the Panthers or Capitals to make the playoffs, but considering the amount of division play left in the second half, nothing is impossible.
This recent winning streak has been fueled by the play of backup-goalie-turned-starter Mathieu Garon. Garon has started five of the Lightnings' previous six games, and he will be in the net tonight against the Winnipeg Jets. It's not even that Garon has been spectacular -- his .902 save percentage is more mundane than spectacular -- but he's been a significant improvement over former starting goalie Dwayne Roloson (.882 save percentage).
If nothing else, the Lightning can use these games against divisional rivals to play the "spoiler" role down the stretch and add some drama to the playoff race. The Lightning and Panthers just completed a Florida state sweep of the Washington Capitals, so can they do the same against the Jets?
Location: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Fla.
Game time: 7:30pm EST
Coverage: Sun Sports, TSN