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  • What happened in Tampa Bay? Print
    Written by Frank Seravalli   
    Sunday, 01 April 2012 11:13

    Even when Tampa Bay Lightning was healthy, it seemed like they were never actually playing to their strength, with coach Guy Boucher having them sit back in a 1-2-2 trap, usually behind the opponent’s own blue line. With such offensive firepower, you’d figure Tampa Bay would be better suited attacking and forechecking with aggression.

    altPHILADELPHIA -- Less than a year ago, the rags-to-riches Tampa Bay Lightning were within a few bounces of the puck in a Game 7 to a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

    These days, it’s easy to forget Tampa battled Boston for the first 52 minutes of Game 7 before surrendering a goal and ultimately falling, 1-0, for the right to face Vancouver.

    Less than a year later, the Lightning were eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday – just a few days after Toronto, Carolina, and yes, even the New York Islanders, the saddest franchise in professional sports.

    What in the name of Phil Esposito happened?

    On the surface, everything seems right: Steven Stamkos leads the NHL with 56 goals and set a new franchise mark, topping Vinny Lecavalier’s record of 52, in an amazing push for 60 goals. Marty St. Louis has hit the 70-point plateau for the seventh time in the last eight years.

    But one brief glimpse at the standings will tell Tampa Bay’s story: they have given up 45 more goals than they’ve scored. In fact, the Lightning have allowed 268 goals, which is 13 more than a Columbus team with 18 less points than them.

    The culprit, most would say, would be Dwayne Roloson, whose 42-year-old body is finally showing his age. Roloson gave way to Mathieu Garon early in the season. He’s sported a career-worst 3.76 goals against-average and .884 save percentage.

    Interestingly, the support for Roloson – despite his struggles – apparently never wavered in the Lightning locker room.

    Coach Guy Boucher said his teammates gave Rollie the Goalie a standing ovation after a recent win. Roloson has always packed the reputation of a stand-up person with him wherever he’s traveled, but still, the thought of applauding a goaltender who is one of the reasons your team is no longer battling for the postseason blew my mind.

    “The guys were clapping hard for him,” Boucher said. “He deserves it. I think after all the hard work he’s put in all year, all the bad luck and circumstances, it did turn his way. He’s been a professional the entire year.

    “He’s been terrific with our young guys. Whenever he was having a hard time, he never brought anybody down with him in his harsh moments. 

    “I have so much respect for how he’s given us last year in terms of his experience and performances and also this year with how he’s been a leader around the room and how his attitude has been terrific – even if he’s had tough circumstances.”

    Some would say part of that blame goes toward Steve Yzerman, for allowing the Lightning to head into a season with a 42-year-old as their top goaltender. At some point, as Yzerman well knows, the body stops letting the mind fool itself.

    But how was Yzerman supposed to know? Roloson came over from the Islanders late in 2011, pushing a drastically different .912 save percentage and 2.56 goals against-average and the Lightning to the Conference Finals.

    Roloson is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year – and could be heading for retirement.

    There are two other equal parts of Tampa Bay’s demise: dreadful injuries and an interesting coaching philosophy.

    Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Victor Hedman and Bruno Gervais have all missed significant time. They’ve been so short-staffed up front that Boucher said Stamkos and St. Louis have practically been sleeping on the ice.

    Yzerman also traded away a decent piece like Pavel Kubina to the Flyers to help rebuild, which further decimated their back end and contributed to their goals-against woes.

    But even when Tampa Bay was healthy, it seemed like they were never actually playing to their strength. Boucher had the Lightning sit back in that 1-2-2 trap, usually behind the opponent’s own blue line. With such offensive firepower, you’d figure Tampa Bay would be best suited attacking and forechecking with aggression.

    It’s a strange spot for Yzerman. The Lightning went from 12th in the East in 2010 to the NHL’s Final Four a year later. Now, they’re back at the bottom and gasping for air.

    Did the Lightning actually catch lightning in a bottle?

    For now, as Yzerman ponders yet another remolding, they are just fine playing the role of late season spoiler.

    “We are a little short-staffed and guys are playing extremely hard and guys are playing a lot of hockey,” Stamkos said. “The stretch lately has been tough but we are finding a way to win and that's all that matters right now. It’s the only thing that makes it more fun to finish this stretch.”

    Frank Seravalli covers the Flyers for the Philadelphia Daily News. On Twitter: @DNFlyers

    Photo by Getty Images

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    Last Updated on Monday, 02 April 2012 20:31