Good News, Bad News for the Tampa Bay Lightning

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIJanuary 15, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 08:  Mike Smith #41 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save against Jamie Langenbrunner #15 of the New Jersey Devils during their game on January 8, 2010 at The Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning's starting goaltender, Mike Smith, has not sustained another concussion, easing the fears of many Lightning fans. Meanwhile, his hockey team lost a critical two points in the standings, blowing a 2-1 lead in the third period to the rival Florida Panthers.

Smith said he is suffering from a "stiff neck" and "black dots" in his vision but was not suffering any effects from a concussion.

"I know at least it wasn't my head. I know the symptoms, I know what goes on and have a better understanding of why my vision was what it was," Smith told reporters. "So right now it's just getting the neck feeling better and that will take care of all the rest of what's going on with my vision."

Smith is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury and is receiving treatment for the neck. As for him stumbling on the ice, that was apparently due to faulty skates.

"I know there's been some talk that he stumbled [a couple of times on the ice after the hit] but he had an issue with his skates," Lightning Trainer Tom Mulligan said. "There are no headaches, no memory loss, no fatigue and right now it's just neck pain."

Smith explained that the black dots typically appear during times of intense pain.

"It's not anything like a concussion symptom," Smith told the Tampa Tribune . "It's more like those black dots I had that are still kind of lingering around and when things get tightened up in the back of my neck those tend to get a little worse."

While Smith struggled with his neck, his hockey team struggled on the ice. After the tremendously emotional war with the Washington Capitals, the Lightning appeared disinterested in their battle with the Florida Panthers.

While goals from Jeff Halpern and Steven Downie gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 advantage going into the third period, Tampa Bay's forecheck was non-existent in the final stanza.

The Panthers were able to easily exit their own zone and skate across the blue line as the Lightning defense turtled in retreat. It would only be a matter of time before the Panthers finally broke through, and eventually, thanks to two mistakes by young defenseman Victor Hedman, they did.

On the tying goal, Hedman tried to pinch in the offensive zone without back line help and he failed to secure the puck, which was chipped behind him, generating an odd-man rush that Corey Stillman converted to tie the game at two.

A minute later, Hedman mishandled a pass from Paul Szczechura, fumbling it to the Panthers Rostislav Olesz, who took two strides then blasted the biscuit past goaltender Antero Niittymaki to give Florida the advantage with under eight minutes left in the game.

Hedman can't be completely held at fault though, as the Lightning playmakers really didn't challenge Florida goalie Thomas Vokoun at all on this night.

Even a penalty shot awarded late in the game to Martin St. Louis wasn't much trouble for the stingy Florida netminder as St. Louis skated in too slowly, allowing Vokoun to settle and easily glove St. Louis' low wrist shot.

The Jekyll and Hyde routine for this hockey team is beginning to wear on fans and team members alike.

"We just have to realize how we want to play and what kind of a team we want to be," defenseman Andrej Meszaros said. "Those two points (last night) were huge for us and we didn't win it. These games at home at this point in the season, we have to win, there is no question about that."

"Every time we get to that .500 level, we just can't climb over it," Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "I wish we had a little more inspired play by some guys."

In the last five years, an average of 93 points has been good enough to be a member of the elite eight in the Easter Conference. As Tampa Bay stands at 46 points with 36 games left to play, the Lightning need 47 of the possible 72 points remaining.

Until the Tampa Bay Lightning learn how to deal with success and develop some consistency, the playoffs will remain just out of reach.