The Blues had a messy game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday; they'll need to play smart to keep last season's Eastern Conference runners-up off of the scoreboard.
Steven Stamkos is outstanding. It's not a secret -- Stamkos has come a very long way since his premiere season, where he was benched more often than not by former Lightning coach (and owner of an amazing mullet) Barry Melrose. Melrose was benched in a different way, and after his firing in 2009 Stamkos blossomed. He, and the Oates to Stamkos' Hull Martin St. Louis, have been torturing NHL goaltenders for almost the past four NHL seasons.
Stamkos used to be predictable; get at the top of one of the circles, get the puck, and boom. Goal. Now he's shooting from everywhere, getting the puck from anyone who can get it to him. He's dangerous, and he should be the Blues' main target tonight for defense. He scored his league-leading 50th goal on Tuesday night during a 6-1 curb-stomping of the flailing Boston Bruins. It's the second season in a row that Stamkos has one so, netting 51 in 2009-2010 for the Rocket Richard Trophy (shared with Sidney Crosby). This year, he scored his 50th goal before Evgeny Malkin, his closest competition, scored his 40th. Needless to say, Stamkos is dangerous.
Do you know what else is dangerous? The league's best defense. Thursday night's 2-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was sloppy, but the two goals against netminder Brian Elliott weren't indicative of the kinds of saves he was making. He makes the unbelievable look mundane, and it's evident in his league leading save percentage (.937) and goals against average (1.62). His partner in crime, Jaroslav Halak, should be starting in net tonight and he is right behind Elliott with a 1.87 GAA.
Where goaltending and defense have been the highlight of the Blues' season, they've been the reason that the Lightning will more than likely not return to the playoffs this season. Last year's savior Dwayne Roloson has been playing his age all season (3.76 GAA, .881 SV%), which is why he's been relegated to back-up even though starter Mathieu Garon is down with a groin injury. Tonight he'll be in net, which should give the Blues a chance to finally make it to 100 points. Stamkos being first to 50 goals is impressive, but a team hitting 100 points is a guarantee that they'll be heading to the playoffs.