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What makes them a dark horse: A look at the standings at this point in the year and the Tampa Bay Lightning are still in first place in the Atlantic Division.
That should eliminate this team from dark-horse status. However, the Lightning lost superstar center Steven Stamkos to a broken leg Nov. 11, and he could miss the majority of the season. Without Stamkos, perhaps the most dangerous goal scorer in the league, the Lightning may struggle to score.
While they could sink badly, they have played well all season under rookie head coach Jon Cooper, and they get wonderful inspiration and leadership from veteran Martin St. Louis.
The Lightning have gotten solid goaltending from Ben Bishop, who leads the NHL in wins through Nov. 15. In order to thrive and ultimately take this division, the Lightning must continue to play aggressively and not fall in the trap of feeling sorry for themselves as a result of the Stamkos injury.
No one player—not even St. Louis—can make up for Stamkos' absence, and if players like Teddy Purcell, Victor Hedman, Valtteri Filppula and Alex Killorn continue to produce, they could surprise the rest of the Atlantic Division and end the season in first place.
What could derail them: Stamkos was on pace to score 50 or more goals for the Lightning, and they are going to try to make up for that loss.
That's easier said than done. The Lightning may be able to get by on adrenaline for a few weeks, but sooner or later they will feel his loss. If they can't find a way to make up for his missing goals, they will sink in the division.
They also need Bishop to maintain his high level of play. He has a 1.96 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage, and any noticeable slippage will hurt the Lightning.