Between goaltending issues, injury problems and power-play deficiencies, plenty of events transpired to derail the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, putting a negative light on a season which started with so much hope.
Though a slide down the standings was unexpected and plenty are left with a bittersweet feeling as Tampa Bay will miss the postseason for the fourth time in the past five years, it's not all downbeat. The Lightning will try to finish on a positive note when they take to the road for the final three games, beginning tonight in Montreal.
The biggest story surrounding this team – outside of missing the playoffs – has been the improved play of Steven Stamkos, who is on the verge of a 60-goal season but has evolved his game to the point where he can score from anywhere at anytime. Of his 58 goals heading into tonight's game at Montreal, Stamkos has scored 46 goals at even strength and only two have been scored into an empty net.
The Lightning also finished the season with 25 victories at home, which ties a franchise record.
Along the way, they have also discovered they have some depth, particularly at forward with the contributions of Tom Pyatt and JT Wyman along with the fill-in roles provided by call ups such as Trevor Smith, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Brandon Segal and Mike Angelidis.
Then there is the addition of winger J.T. Brown, who has not even participated in a full practice with the team yet but has fit right in through two games displaying a strong knack for the game.
"He pulled three or four moves (Monday) that very few people can pull and he did it in the NHL with no experience,'' Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "I think this is all so positive for our team and our fans for the future. It's been a very difficult year because of injuries and such, but I think we can retain from this year is we are building depth and that was the number one thing with this whole new staff and organization. To see it so quick, I just think that it's going to be real good in the future for all of us.''
A 5-2 record in the past seven games has allowed some positive vibes to be felt through the organization.
"I think it's been a learning year for us, up and down and we couldn't find a way to be consistent,'' Pyatt said. "I just think we have to take the lessons of this year and bring it into next year. It was tough with all the players we lost, but I think we can take it into next year, hopefully be healthy, we'll pick up a couple of additions and we should be good.''
And that's some of the outlook Boucher wants to harp upon as a disappointing season comes to a close this week.
"We have to see this season not as something negative, but as something positive, a building block,'' he said. "The things we have learned, the adversity we went through, look at how the guys fight ... it just shows what kind of character the players have and how much they want it. So I think it's just a question of time when circumstances are normal for us to have success. We just have to continue to pile up those small victories.''
WHO: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens
WHERE/WHEN: Bell Centre, Montreal/7:30 p.m.
TV/RADIO: Sun Sports/970 AM
INJURIES: Lightning — D Mattias Ohlund (knee), RW Dana Tyrell (knee), D Marc-Andre Bergeron (back), G Mathieu Garon (groin), RW Ryan Shannon (shoulder), RW Adam Hall (upper body), out. Canadiens — RW Brian Gionta (arm), C Travis Moen (upper body), RW Mathieu Darche (upper body), D Raphael Diaz (lower body), D Tomas Kaberle (upper body), C Scott Gomez (concussion), D Yannick Weber (lower body), out; G Carey Price (upper body), doubtful; C Petteri Nokelainen (upper body), questionable.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Tampa Bay is 31-30-11, including 15-17-3 in Montreal.
NEED TO KNOW: This is the final of four meetings this season; Tampa Bay is 2-1, with the home team winning all three games. ... Lightning C Steven Stamkos has eight goals in his past six games and needs two to become the second player in the past 16 years to record 60 goals in a season. ... Montreal is 1-3-4 in its past eight games, scoring two or fewer goals seven times in that span. ... Tampa Bay is 12-21-5 on the road.