Lightning need to make the most of upcoming home dates

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On one end of the schedule spectrum, you have teams merely looking to survive a tough stretch, with the Montreal Canadiens ranking high among them.

On the other end, you have teams that really need to thrive. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a prime example of that group.

It’s been a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of season for the Bolts, but their outlook could really change depending upon how they handle the next two weeks or so. (Or, you know, they can keep this pattern going by mixing wins and losses.)

Glance at the very promising opportunities the Lightning could enjoy:

Wednesday (Dec. 28): vs. Canadiens
Thursday (Dec. 29): vs. Maple Leafs
Saturday (Dec. 31): vs. Hurricanes
Jan. 3: vs. Jets
Jan. 5: vs. Predators
Jan. 7: at Flyers
Jan. 8: at Penguins
Jan. 12: vs. Sabres
Jan. 13: vs. Blue Jackets

That’s a five-game homestand and seven of nine games in Tampa Bay, a promising opportunity for a team that has played five more times on the road than at home so far in 2016-17.

Now, there’s no sense claiming that even a strong run would cure all of the Lightning’s ills.

For one thing, their schedule really lands itself to streaks. After all that home cooking, the Lightning face what could be a harrowing six-game road trip. Then they play four games at home, four on the road and another four at home.

With such erratic swings looming after this stretch, we may very well look back at these next couple weeks as a fork in the road for this up-and-down Lightning team.