It's been a long, tough year for fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They entered the season with high expectations; the Bolts had come one game short of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, and they were returning with almost the same team. Their goalie situation would hopefully be improved with a full year from Dwayne Roloson, and their home arena -- the Tampa Bay Times Forum -- had been revamped and upgraded over the off season. It was a season full of high hopes.
Yet things fell apart. Dwayne Roloson aged 10 years overnight and became one of the worst starting goalies in the NHL, and the Lightning could never quite gain any momentum. There were a couple times when it looked like they might challenge for a playoff spot, but then they hit a cold streak and fell down into the lower ranks of the Eastern Conference. It simply wasn't their year.
The Lightning will play their final home game of the season on Monday night, facing the Washington Capitals. The game will have an impact on the Capitals' playoff hopes -- they are currently in 8th place with 88 points -- but the more interesting story for Bolts fans is the amount of youth in Tampa Bay's lineup.
The Lightning acquired Brian Lee and Keith Aulie at the trade deadline, and both young defenders will likely play big roles with the Bolts in 2012. Similarly, the Lightning recently signed top college recruit J.T. Brown to a two-year deal, and he will be on the ice with the Bolts tonight. While the Lightning only have him under contract through next season, Brown has the potentially to immediately step in as an impact forward, and he should provide the Lightning with impressive front-line depth next season.
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