Will injuries dim the Hawks' chances against the Lightning?
Let's not let this get to a shootout and start all that rigamarole again, shall we?
The Hawks and Lightning dance again tonight, after a barn-burner of a first encounter with no shortage of ballyhoo and brouhaha. There was Pavel Kubina's viscious and gutless elbow to Dave Bolland's head that has almost certainly ended his season. There were enough bad penalty calls to make one turn into an anarchist/nihlist. The Hawks killed off a penalty in OT to one of the more dangerous units in the league. And then there was the utter ridiculousness of Martin St. Louis' shootout winner, in which he evidently moved the puck backwards and stopped his momentum, which are against rules that either don't actually exist or the league doesn't have the stones to enforce. A tasty affair, to be sure.
Tonight probably won't have that same urgency for Tampa. They've already clinched their playoff spot, are locked into either the four or five seed, and know they'll be playing Pittsburgh. While they'll probably say all the right things about wanting to secure home ice advantage for that first round, they'll be more aware of not getting anyone hurt. They've won four in a row, though, so they're playing well. They beat Minnesota in St. Paul yesterday, but that was a sleepy affair that suggested two teams merely getting it out of the way, for different reasons.
But they can be dangerous. Any team that carries two of the top five scorers in the league would be. But only one of them is firing at the moment, as Steven Stamkos -- who looked for all the world to be headed to a 60-goal season -- has only potted three times in the last 18 games. Part of that can be explained by having the other dominant scorer, St. Louis moved off his line to play with Vincent Lecavalier, his linemate for the better part of a decade. Lecavalier was having a down year by his standards, but looks to be reinvigorated by rejoining his running buddy. They were everywhere yesterday.
The Lightning are coached by Guy Boucher, who is considered a budding genius. He runs a somewhat unique forechecking system, but I won't get into that here because it's really only interesting to Canadian geezers. What you should know is that the Lightning love to hound the puck with multiple guys, which leads to a high-energy, up-tempo game with lots of space. If the Hawks were at full-strength, this would bode well. But right now outside of the top line, the Hawks aren't blessed with skaters to take advantage. Sharp's and Bolland's injury is a wound that is really starting to fester.
Still, this is a team with not much to play for and that played yesterday and will be trotting out the backup goaltender, in the form of Mike Smith. And the Hawks need these points worse than a wino needs box wine. If they play with the appropriate desperation, something they all said was missing on Friday and would be brought tonight, they should be clean to the other side.