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Atlantic Division Race Turns South

Posted by Webster Washington on 2/25/2016 6:28:22 AM

Since early January the Tampa Bay Lightning have been climbing the Atlantic Division ladder, enough to make us think they could leapfrog the Florida Panthers before it's all said and done. Since the Montreal Canadiens have dropped totally out of sight, the Bolts and Panthers are left for this Atlantic duel in the sun, with traditional powers Detroit and Boston close on their heels. As of Wednesday, a total of five points separated the four teams.

Sunshine State Showdown

The Lightning have been the trendy team of late, putting together a seven-game winning streak in January and currently on a four-game roll going into Friday's matchup at New Jersey. Ever since general manager Steve Yzerman announced that they aren't trading Steven Stamkos before the deadline, the Bolts have settled into winning ways.

The Panthers have been true to basically the same form for most of the season, and it has served them well. What they do is put an iron fist on opponents' scoring and let Jaromir Jagr work his age-old magic at the other end. At age 44, Jagr recently became oldest player in NHL history to record a 20-goal season. And he has 23 assists. In goal, Roberto Luongo has a 2.26 goals against average, and reserve keeper Al Montoya is at 1.91. The Cats are fierce at home, too, with a 19-9-4 record at the BB&T Center.

For Traditionalists …

The Boston Bruins have become one of the best scoring teams in the league, with Patrice Bergeron racking up 50 points and Brad Marchand scoring 30 goals. And here's an over/under alert: the Bruins have hit the big O in eight of their last 10.

On the other hand, the Detroit Red Wings have had problems in the scoring department lately, and their goal keeping has been shaky. But despite losing five of their last seven, the Wings have still managed to stay within four points of the Panthers. And they are the Red Wings, which means 24 straight post-season appearances.

Liking The Lightning

I noted here less than a month ago that the Lightning at 8-1 or better to win the Eastern Conference would be a bargain. That's where they are, and that figure may not hold if they continue winning. The Panthers at 7-1 is no bad deal, either. Between the two, it may come down to who has the hottest goalkeeper. Luongo is having one of his best years yet, and the Bolts' Ben Bishop is also having a sterling season. And consider riding that Boston over trend until the oddsmakers' figures get out of hand.

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