Tampa Bay Lightning's Post Season Hopes Doomed By Post Olympic Break Swoon

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIMarch 22, 2010

The white flag has been raised and the end is nigh. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the season came to a close at the Olympic Break, when changes in coaching staff and inactivity at the deadline ruined team chemistry and sent the hockey club into a tailspin they could not recover.

With a 5-2 shellacking at the hands of their rivals, the Florida Panthers, the Lightning lost their fifth straight and fell to 2-8-1 since the two week sabbatical and 2-11-1 in their last 14.

During the break, General Manager Brian Lawton fired a popular assistant coach, then failed to secure a puck moving defensemen at the deadline, making only one minor deal for an underachieving winger.

The fissure between Head Coach Rick Tocchet and Lawton widened as Tocchet felt undermined by his General Manager's move on assistant coach Wes Walz.

Tocchet was never consulted on the firing and the players were stunned when the popular coach was replaced. Tocchet felt Walz replacement, Jim Johnson, was a Lawton spy and never trusted him.

The dissention in the coaching room seemed to translate down to the ice, where the Lightning have had a startling fall. At one point the team was five games over .500 and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference,  but Tampa Bay has won just twice in fourteen games since reaching that zenith.

They have tumbled to the bottom of the Southeast Division, are second to last in the conference, and find themselves eight points out of the playoffs with just 10 left to play.

The problem for the Bolts has been simple. They have no defensemen capable of skating the puck out of their zone. It's led to turnovers and goals in their own net.

Tampa Bay has a league worst team GAA of 3.91 since the All-Star break.

"The biggest thorn for us is we have too many goals in front of the net," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet told the St. Petersburg Times . "We've just got to get tougher in front of the net. It's really costing us."

Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos, who ended a five game scoring drought last night, realizes that the door has just about slammed shut on the Bolts.

"The odds are stacked against us," he told the Times . "We have to play for something, right? It's still within reach, but it's not going to be easy, that's for sure."

Even if Boston played .500 the rest of the way to reach 87 points, the Lightning would need to go undefeated to beat that point total. In addition, Tampa Bay would have to climb over five other teams to get there.

Turn out the lights, it's over, folks.

At this point, it just remains to be seen if the Lightning, now four games under .500 at 28-32-12, can rise up and finish with a flurry to capture their first winning record since the 2006-07 season.

For Lightning winger Steve Downie, it's much simpler.

"Right now we just have to figure out how to win a game," he told the Times.

If they can't, new owner Jeffrey Vinik certainly will find some players, coaches, and front office folks who can.