Sunday morning homily XX

Now that the Easter Bunny has stopped by the house, I'm learning that we weren't his only intended destination. It seems to me, at least, that he left one big stinky egg in the Tampa Bay Lightning's season -- the Florida Panthers.

Had the Bolts been able to capture the season series from their South Florida cousins, Tampa Bay just might have a better view going into the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Lightning didn't do that. As it stands, they'll meet Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils in the first round.

Granted, the Lightning took the season series from the Devils, 3-1. Still, though, there's something about the playoffs that prompts New Jersey to play that much stronger. And given the recent coaching change, where Lou Lamoriello axed Claude Julien with three games remaining and contending for the Presidents' Trophy, I'm certain the Devils are focused on the tasks at hand.

It's been the Panthers (who finished the season at a respectable 35-31-16), though, who are mostly responsible for the Lightning's failure to capture the Southeast Division crown. Three times since March 3rd, and by an average 6-2 score, the Panthers spanked the Lightning. I guess when your season appears over in March, you adopt the role of a spoiler.

Unless the Lightning goes deep into the second season, it'll be a shame to see career seasons by Vinny Lecavalier (107 points, including the first Lightning ever to score 50 goals), Marty St. Louis (101 points) and Dan Boyle (20 goals and 63 points) be spoiled by an early round exit.

Assigning blame, Part II

To blame the Bolts' slippage entirely on the Panthers would be short-sighted, though. Losing your home finale (the sixth in as many seasons) and falling short in a season-ending game against a division rival is not the strongest way to enter the playoffs. Limping is more like it.

I hate to say it, but I'm sensing a one-and-done for the Lightning.

Given the Lightning's collapse in the season's final weeks (from leading the Southeast to stumbling to seventh), I wonder how long it'll take before a chorus to fire general manager Jay Feaster and coach John Tortorella becomes a crescendo. I doubt it'll happen in the offseason, though a poor start next season will certainly grease the skids.

Maybe that's why Scotty Bowman has been hanging around the team -- taking notes and evaluating talent should he be given the reins. Pure conjecture on my part, I know, but an interesting thought nonetheless.

To hail to the President

With the Buffalo Sabres winning the Presidents' Trophy, count me among the many hoping that the team remembers that it's just for its regular-season performance.

Though everyone begins the playoffs with a clean sheet of ice, so to speak, I see no reason why the Sabres can't continue their dominating offensive assault right through to June.

I still wish, though, that Buffalo had Martin Biron to back up Ryan Miller. Even though he's a UNH guy, Ty Conklin brings me little relief.

Anyone but BC, please

Going into the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, I was rooting for Maine and North Dakota. Both lost. Going into the finals, I certainly couldn't bring myself to support Boston College. By default, I'm glad Michigan State won.

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