ON THE ROAD WITH DAVE MISHKIN
|Tampa Bay Lightning @ Chicago Blackhawks
When a team is mired in a losing streak, it is natural to feel that the club must make wholesale changes to its game in order to turn its fortunes around. What’s been a staple of the John Tortorella-era with the Lightning, however, has been a dogged allegiance to the Lightning’s system, regardless of whether the Bolts are winning or losing. When the team is struggling to win games, rather than alter the team’s system, Tortorella demands that the players execute the system better. If history is any indication, the players invariably meet this demand and before long, have embarked on a winning streak.
To that end, even though the Lightning enter tonight’s game having lost their past four, in none of those games has Tampa Bay been outplayed for a full 60 minutes. Rather, one could make the argument that the Bolts have outplayed the opposition for long stretches in each of those four contests. Still, the Lightning have suffered costly dips and those lulls have led to opposition victories.
In the first loss of the streak, the Lightning led Atlanta, 3-1, with less than six minutes remaining in the third period. But Atlanta tied the score with a pair of goals less than three minutes apart, then won the game in overtime. Last Wednesday, the Lightning outplayed the New York Rangers in the final two periods, but a sluggish first period helped the Rangers build a 1-0 lead. Thanks to Henrik Lundqvist’s goaltending, the Lightning, despite badly out-chancing the Rangers in the last 40 minutes, only scored one goal and lost, 2-1. On Friday in Carolina, the Hurricanes overcame a 3-1 third period deficit by scoring three times in a 6:43 span and rallied for a 4-3 win over the Lightning. Then Saturday, the Devils broke open a 1-1 game with a pair of second-period goals just 42 seconds apart en route to a 3-2 victory.
In my last entry, prior to that Carolina game, I referenced the significance of momentum swings. When your team enjoys a surge, it needs to parlay that momentum into goals scored. Naturally, when the other club is clicking, you hope to limit the damage. These have been the two components (especially the latter) missing from the Lightning’s game in the past four games. The opposition has been able to hurt Tampa Bay when it has grabbed momentum.
So the Lightning’s objective tonight will be to play a full 60-minute game in hopes of minimizing, if not eliminating, Chicago’s momentum surges. If and when the Blackhawks do surge, the Bolts must find a way to turn momentum back around as quickly as possible.
There are several interesting story lines to tonight’s game. It likely will be the first time that Tampa Bay will face Nikolai Khabibulin since the former Lightning goaltender left for Chicago. The Lightning will get their first look at Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the league’s top two scoring rookies. Plus, Martin Havlat, who always seemed to play well against the Lightning when he was a member of the Ottawa Senators, is expected back in the Chicago lineup tonight after missing 22 games with a shoulder injury. The Blackhawks have gotten off to their best 23-game start since the 2001-2002 season and are coming off a respectable 2-2-2 road trip. But regardless of who Chicago puts on the ice or how the Hawks are playing, the bottom line for the Lightning is simple: a) continue doing the good things they’ve been doing and b) manage to successfully navigate their way through Chicago’s surges.