Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tampa Bay Still Believes

After facing a team needing a win badly on Wednesday, things won't get any easier for the Caps Saturday night in Tampa Bay as they pay their first visit of the season to the St. Pete Times Forum.

Believe it or not, despite trailing the Panthers by 13 points for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference - and needing to go 21-6-1 to reach the 90-point mark, roughly to be in the playoff mix - the Bolts aren't quite ready to concede they're just playing out the string just yet.

Ryan Malone told the St. Petersburg Times they're still trying to get in the postseason.

"But if you're down, you have to look at it as a challenge. And if we do come back and make the playoffs, people will be, like, 'Wow, those guys really came together.' It's something we want to do in this room."

Despite Malone's optimism, things are squarely against the Lightning, who came into the season with high hopes thanks to the free-agent signings of Malone from the Penguins, longtime Capital Olaf Kolzig as well as the addition of No. 1 overall selection Steve Stamkos.

Of course, it didn't work out that way, getting Barry Melrose fired after a 5-7-5 start, and Rick Tocchet hasn't fared much better, going 13-18-6 since taking over heading into tonight's game against Toronto, and are just 1-4-1 in their last six games.

Malone has just 28 points in 45 games, good for just fifth on the Tampa roster, Kolzig is out for the year with an injury after dressing in just eight games and Stamkos has struggled with just 21 points so far in his rookie season. Not surprisingly, the Lighting are 18-25-11 and in fourth place in the Southeast, just above Atlanta - who downed Tampa on Tuesday.

The real intrigue for the Lightning right now is if the team will deal away one of their two All-Stars, with the rumor du jour being that Martin St. Louis may end up in Pittsburgh to try and save the sliding Penguins, while Vincent Lecavalier's rumored to end up with Montreal.

But these are the games Washington has had trouble getting up for, and with a bevvy of ex-Caps (even without the injured Kolzig) in Jeff Halpern, Steve Eminger and Jamie Heward, there will be a couple of guys in black looking for a bit of payback after two pretty lopsided losses in Washington earlier this year.

The Capitals certainly should take two points in the first of a busy back-to-back visit to Florida, with the 'Cats waiting for a late afternoon start on Sunday, so it's critical they don't overlook the fading 'Ning.

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