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Bolts Barrel Back Into Playoff Picture

Posted by Webster Washington on 1/31/2016 7:15:54 AM

A month ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked nothing like the team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals last season. They were floundering at around a .500 winning percentage, at times below the playoff bubble. They were plagued by key frontline injuries, and rumors of trading captain Steven Stamkos were swirling. Message to the NHL’s Eastern Conference: They’re back.

Going into the All-Star break, the Lightning won nine of their last 11 games, a stretch that included a seven-game winning streak. They now stand with 58 points, five behind the Atlantic Division leading Florida Panthers, and smack in the thick of a competitive Eastern Conference playoff race.

Return to Form

What’s the cause of the Lightning resurgence? They still haven’t struck a deal with Stamkos, but the center vows that he wants to stay at Tampa, at least long enough to see out the season. He’s playing like it, too, with a team-leading 21 goals.

Center Tyler Johnson has returned from a pesky wrist injury and has a goal and four assists in the past eight games. "Thankfully now I've battled through that and starting to get healthy and starting to kind of find my game trying to play the way I can play,” Johnson said last week. “Just feel more comfortable every single day." Winger Ondrej Palat has also returned from an injury that kept him out for 20 games. Nikita Kucherov has emerged as the team leader in points, with 41, and Andrei Vasilevskiy has filled in well in goal when Ben Bishop is resting.

Betting the Lightning

Look for the Lightning to have a solid second half of the season. The losing streaks will shorten, and the winning streaks will be longer. When the futures odds return, I think 8-1 or better to win the Eastern Conference would be a bargain. And there would be value in Tampa Bay to win it all, at 10-1 or better. They’ve knocked on the door before and I believe they can break it down. And remember, last year Johnson led the league with 13 playoff goals and was tied for the playoff scoring lead with 23 points. Picks on the Lightning in single games should pay off too, at the right price.

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