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Power Rankings: Lightning next to test Caps in Southeast

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer

Updated Dec. 27

Another week presents another challenger to the sense of entitlement the Washington Capitals have enjoyed in the Southeast Division.

Left wing Ryan Malone (left) and Martin St. Louis (right) have been part of Tampa Bay's special power-play unit. (AP)  
Left wing Ryan Malone (left) and Martin St. Louis (right) have been part of Tampa Bay's special power-play unit. (AP)  
This time the Tampa Bay Lightning -- led on the ice by Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis and off it by rookie coach Guy Boucher and rookie GM Steve Yzerman -- do the honors. The Lightning took over first place in the division by winning Sunday in Atlanta against the Thrashers, who threatened Washington's supremacy seven days earlier.

Both upstarts have missed the playoffs the past three seasons, but their turnarounds represent a new dynamic in the division, especially since the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes also are more competitive.

Remember when this group was called the 'Southleast?' That derisive description disappeared after two of its clubs won Stanley Cups sandwiched around the lockout. However, any respect division gained has been tempered because its most dominant club has flopped in the playoffs.

So now the Capitals are on a mission to translate regular-season success into postseason glory. But now Washington must deal with more pressure from within its division than in the recent past. And that might be a good thing down the road. The Caps snapped an ugly eight-game winless streak last week and won three of four after that -- the only defeat coming in overtime to archrival Pittsburgh on a night when Washington played well.

Still, the Caps have opened the door, making the Southeast more compelling than it has been in years. It's about time.

The rankings through Sunday night's games:


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