Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.
In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.
This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.
Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.
The perfect remedy, right?
Wrong. So wrong.
The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.
Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.
The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.
There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.
A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.