Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 10/11/11
After three games of a grueling 10-day road trip to start the season, its difficult to make any definitive assessment of the Tampa Bay Lightning. But a tweet from head coach Guy Boucher Tuesday afternoon probably said it best: We just played two of the top teams in the league. Now we know how far we have to go. Lets take a closer look. In the season opener last Friday, the Bolts easily dispatched of the same Carolina team they knocked out of playoff contention on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign. Their 5-1 win was powered by goals from the most familiar tandem of Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, who wiped out an early 1-0 deficit, and followed with scores from Steve Downie, Nate Thompson and Ryan Malone. Toss in 32 saves from Dwayne Roloson and Tampa Bay couldnt have asked for a better way to raise the curtain on the new season. That wouldnt be true, however, in the two games that followed against a pair of NHL powers, the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and Southeast Division winners Washington. Saturday night in Boston, the Lightning visited the TD Garden for the first time since watching their dream of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals vanish in a nail-biting 1-0 loss last May. Boucher and Co. would naturally have liked nothing more than to return to the scene of the season-ending heartbreak and come away with a win if nothing other than to get a good barometer reading right out of the box. That didnt happen, though the 4-1 defeat was tighter than the final score suggested. St. Louis, signaling hes on track for yet another big season at age 36, scored for the second straight game and the 300th time in his career, lifting the Lightning into an early 1-1 tie after a scoreless first period. New backup goalkeeper Mathieu Garon got the start over Roloson, and had 38 saves in his debut. But once again, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas rose to the occasion as he did so often last year in winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHLs best netminder. He finished with 25 saves, while Boston outshot the Lightning 42-26 and put the game away with a pair of third-period goals. Then came Monday nights slugfest at Washingtons Verizon Center, ending with a 6-5 shootout loss to the team Tampa Bay knocked out of the playoffs in a sweep. Beating Washington would have been the perfect way to bounce back from the loss in Boston two nights before. And victory was close at hand, as the Lightning took a 5-4 lead on a Brett Clark goal with seven minutes to play in regulation. But the Caps Jason Chimera scored with 2:44 remaining in the third period to force overtime. Washington was called for a pair of penalties in OT, but Tampa Bay wasnt able to take advantage, and Matt Hendricks eventually scored the game-winner in the tie-breaker to lift the home team to 2-0 and drop the Lightning to 1-2. The Bolts could take heart in another strong effort by the 42-year-old Roloson, who notched 38 saves of his own in the loss, and in a game they nearly won against a standout team that was gunning for them. Yet in the end, they were undone by turnovers, including a late one by Dominic Moore in his own zone that led to Chimeras game-tying goal his second of the night. If not for that, the Lighting might well be looking at a more uplifting 2-1 start in hostile territory, preparing for the next challenge Thursday night in New York against the Islanders. The five-game road trip ends Saturday night in South Florida against the Panthers. And with the home opener set for next Monday in a Panthers rematch, well have a much clearer view of how the Lightning stack up and just how far they have to go, in the tweeted words of their head coach.
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