Plucky Tampa Bay Lightning Keep Fighting for a Playoff Berth

February 28, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie (76) fights with Montreal Canadiens right wing Brad Staubitz (25) during the third period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Lightning won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Despite being a seller at the trading deadline, dealing with key injuries, and having five players out with a wicked flu, the Tampa Bay Lightning remain in the playoff chase.

You're a seller at the NHL trade deadline, dealing away four important pieces for prospects and draft picks. You lose your Captain and arguably your best defenseman both to injury. Five of your players suddenly can't play because of the flu. You are playing with a boat load of kids and a journeyman goalie between the pipes.

"We had a lot of adversity in the last two days,'' said goaltender Mathieu Garon told TBO.com, "We had the trades and then a day later, a lot of guys went down with the flu, but we found a way to win the game.''

Yet, somehow, someway the Tampa Bay Lightning just continue to win. It's now five of their last seven and four straight on home ice. Tampa Bay is back over .500 at 29-28-6 and their 64 points have them 11th in the Eastern Conference but just 5 points behind the final playoff seed, Washington.


Eastern Standings

GP W-L-OT Pts
New York Rangers 61 40-15-6 86
Boston Bruins 61 37-21-3 77
Florida Panthers 62 30-20-12 72
Pittsburgh Penguins 63 37-21-5 79
Ottawa Senators 65 34-23-8 76
Philadelphia Flyers 62 34-21-7 75
New Jersey Devils 62 35-23-4 74
Washington Capitals 63 32-26-5 69
Winnipeg Jets 65 30-27-8 68
Toronto Maple Leafs 64 29-28-7 65
Tampa Bay Lightning 63 29-28-6 64
Buffalo Sabres 63 28-27-8 64
Carolina Hurricanes 63 24-26-13 61
New York Islanders 63 26-28-9 61
Montreal Canadiens 64 24-30-10 58

As you glance at the schedule, you see that the Lightning will play 9 of their next 11 and 11 of their final 19 games on home ice where Tampa Bay is 19-9-2 this season.

Dating back to the 2001-02 season, seven of the last ten years, the team that qualified for the final seed in the playoffs had at least 91 points. Most had no less than 94 points.

Let's say that if the Lightning don't want to be worried going into the final night of the season at Winnipeg they need 94 points.

30 points in the standings means that Tampa Bay's margin for error in the final 19 games is very slim. There's 38 standing points out there left for Tampa Bay.

I think we all know and understand that the Lightning aren't going to win 21 straight to end the season. So realistically, how do the Lightning get to 94? Tampa Bay cannot lose more than 4 games in regulation time. So you're talking a 14-2-2 or 15-4 finish, folks.

Does this hockey team have that kind of run left in them? Probably not, especially with the NY Rangers, Boston, Philly, New Jersey and Ottawa all still on the schedule.

A more realistic run for the Lightning would be 10-5-4, 24 points. That puts Tampa Bay at 88 points. Would that be enough? It was in 2009-10 when both the Flyers and Canadiens snuck in with 88 points. In 2002-03, the Islanders made the playoffs with just 83 points. Boston also snuck in that year with 87 points. In 2001-02, Montreal made it in with 87 points.

Tampa Bay is competing with five teams ranging from 69-to-64 points. Obviously, Washington is certainly in the best shape at 69 points. They could go 8-8-3 and still get to 88 points. Winnipeg is a little worse off despite their 68 points, having played two more games than Tampa Bay or Washington. They need to go at least 9-5-2 to reach 88 points.

Toronto has played 64 games and with 65 points, need to go no worse than 10-5-3. Buffalo, like the Lightning also have 64 points with 19 games to play but they're hurting with their tie-breaker, having just 22 wins in regulation or overtime. None of the other contenders have less than 25 ROT wins. Shootout wins count for two points in the standings but are discounted when using the victories tie-breaker. Buffalo would probably need to be closer to 92 points than 88 to qualify.

Of the contenders, Tampa Bay has the most remaining home games (11). Washington has 10 games left on home ice while both Toronto and Winnipeg have 8 games left and Buffalo has just 7 games left at home.

It's the time of the season where every win will be huge but every loss will be bigger. With 7 of those 19 games coming against the teams their competing against, the games just increase in scope.

"These players are in the business of doing the impossible,'' Lightning coach Guy Boucher told TBO.com.

While the odds are certainly against them, I wouldn't count these guys out.

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