In the grand scheme of things, Tampa Bay's loss to Toronto Tuesday night didn't mean a whole lot. The Lightning have already clinched a playoff spot and though it would be nice to win the divisional crown over Montreal, it's not a prerequisite to winning the Stanley Cup – something the Bolts are definitely capable of.
The most troubling part of the game was that several prominent Tampa players were not involved in it. Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr are all on the shelf, with Garrison and Coburn possibly missing the first round of the playoffs. This is not the type of news you want if you're a Tampa fan.
Every team deals with injuries, especially near the end of a gruelling 82-game schedule. But you still need to win games and looking at the past five Cup winners, it pays to head into the post-season with at least some juice.
Surprise, surprise, the team that almost bucks the trend here is the Los Angeles Kings, hockey's answer to a groom who forgets to set his alarm on wedding day. Last season, the Kings went 5-3-2 in their final 10 regular season games before embarking on what was truly a harrowing championship run. Two years before that, L.A. went 5-2-3 down the stretch, then went out and won the franchise's first-ever title.
In recent history, the Chicago Blackhawks have been the most primed for the post-season, going into their 2013 run red-hot at 7-2-1. Back in 2010, the Hawks were 6-3-1. That's the same record the Boston Bruins had when they ventured into the playoffs in 2011, winning the whole thing in the end.
Right now, Tampa Bay is 3-3 with four games remaining. The Bolts have no more back-to-backs and their schedule is mostly bubble teams – Boston, Ottawa, Florida and out-of-it New Jersey. Winning at least two of those games is conceivable.
The hottest contenders in the West right now are Anaheim and Minnesota. The Ducks are 4-2 with four games remaining and the most points in the NHL. The Wild have won five straight with six games to play and don't seem like the type of team you'd like to face in the first round. Plus, they're feeling real good right now, as defenseman Jordan Leopold told me on Tuesday.
"It's a tight group," he said. "And it's fun to win. Winning cures all."
I'm sure Tampa is hoping to find some cures for what ails Garrison in particular, as he can be a game-changer on the power play and gives the Bolts solid minutes. But as long as they can ford the first round with his absence – and play at least pretty well in the next four games – the Cup is up for grabs.