The Tampa Bay Lightning
play their final home game of the 2011-12 season Monday night when the Washington Capitals
visit the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
For the Capitals, with three regular season games remaining and a slim two-point grip on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the game has huge postseason implications.
"It's a big game," Nicklas Backstrom
said. "We need all those points and we have to be ready to battle out there and get our two points."
But for the Lightning, the contest is meaningful, too, as they have the chance to play spoiler and send the home crowd off with optimism for the future.
With that in mind, Tampa Bay is planning somewhat of a fan appreciation night.
"We'll try to give the fans a great show tonight," Lightning coach Guy Boucher
said. "Regardless of playoffs or no playoffs, we've always talked about isolating games and this game is isolated. We want to please our fans with a work-ethic show."
To the players' disappointment, there is little else left for them to offer the fans now except hard work.
"We're disappointed that we won't be playing some hockey in April and May," Martin St. Louis
said. "It's a tough League and we want to finish strong and make the fans feel good about the last home game. It's not about the wins and losses, it's the effort you put on the ice. The fans will recognize the work ethic and the effort, and if you do that you give yourself a good chance to win games. We'll work on that tonight."
Also on display, though the team is playing it down, will be Steven Stamkos
' continued drive to be the first NHL player to get 60 goals since Alex Ovechkin
notched 65 in 2007-08. Stamkos currently has 56 with four games remaining.
"I'll be honest, I'm not big on these things," Boucher said. "Nobody in the room talks about that. The only people that talk about it are the media. If he gets 59, does that diminish him as a player? When players chase these intangibles they aren't part of a team-oriented mentality. Steven is the first guy to be an unselfish, team-oriented guy. Whether he stays at 56 or goes to 62 he's still going to be a great leader, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had 59 and an open net, if he didn't pass the puck to someone else."
Boucher might not be surprised, but everyone else in the building would be.
Still, Stamkos has been making a point of telling teammates not to go out of their way to set him up for scoring chances.
"I think what Steven is saying with that is that he wants everyone to understand that he's not going after 60 goals," Boucher said. "He's going after our team winning. But that's him. That's what makes Steven special. He sees things as they are and he's a great leader for it."
This is the sixth and final meeting between these two clubs this season. The Capitals have won three of five, but the Lightning (2-1-2) have points in four of five. They have defeated the Capitals in two home games previously.