TAMPA -- From their precarious perch, the Tampa Bay Lightning can see everything. Ahead of them are five teams that they have to maneuver past in order to make the postseason; behind them is one team and one point separating them from the Eastern Conference basement.
That delicate balance makes every game crucial.
Tuesday night the Lightning open a four-game homestand against the Ottawa Senators, one of the clubs they must leapfrog in order to make the playoffs.
And although there is an eight-point hill to climb to reach the final playoff spot, the fates are aligning to give the Lightning every opportunity to get there.
They have six of their next nine games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where they are 15-8-2, and Ryan Malone, an important part of their power play, returns to the lineup Tuesday after an absence of eight games with an upper-body injury.
The return of Malone can only be welcome news for a Lightning power play that is 29th in the League with a 13.5 success percentage and has scored just twice in their last 29 attempts, which includes an empty-netter.
"He (Malone) is our best guy down low, so we're going to have to make room for him on the power play," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.
After Sunday's 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh, the second half in a back-to-back series, Boucher was critical of the play of his team, which had jumped out to a first period two-goal lead. On reflection, Boucher now takes a different view of the loss.
"After the first period, we should have been expecting them coming out real strong, and they did, and we stayed at the same level," Boucher said. "We don't cut any slack, but we certainly can explain it. Our guys had nothing left in the second and the third. We could have played it differently; we stayed very aggressive and we didn't have the juice to do that.
"We knew we had to change the game plan around, but we didn't change it and it cost us. Next time around, we'll be able to manage it better."
Another point seemingly in the Lightning's favor is that the Senators arrive after going 1-6-2 in their last nine games, but Jason Spezza suggested that the worst was over.
"We picked up three of our last four points," Spezza said. "We struggled for five or six games before that, but in a snapshot of our last three games, we're playing better.
"The games become very important now because every team is desperate to pick up points. We'll face a desperate team every night, and no one can really feel safe."
Certainly the Lightning understand the critical situation they face.
"This is a huge homestand for us," Pavel Kubina said. "We're eight points out of the playoffs with a game in hand. We don't give up; we'll go to the end and see what will happen, but we're capable of making it, for sure."
Dominic Moore put it this way: "When there are points on the table, they need to be ours."