Guy Boucher took the fall for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, as he was fired by general manager Steve Yzerman on Sunday morning. Following Sunday night’s 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, however, the players had no one to blame but themselves.
They might try to pin the blame on Ondrej Pavelec, who had an incredible performance, making 23 of 25 saves for the Jets.
“[Pavelec] has been arguably our best player pretty much for a long stretch of time,” Jets coach Claude Noel told NHL.com, “so I’m just thankful that he’s in the net, let’s put it that way. He plays very well, and he really helps us. I thought he did his part and more.”
Possibly motivated by Yzerman’s power move earlier in the day, the Lightning’s overall pace of play and effort looked better than it has in a long time. Scoring chances and crisp passes were abundant, but it was not enough against Pavelec.
Steven Stamkos scored his league-leading 22nd goal, and Cedrick Desjardins made one of the highlight-reel saves of the year. Nonetheless, the Bolts dropped their third straight game.
Bryan Little (5) opened the scoring for Winnipeg at 14:02 in the first period, recovering a Stamkos turnover and beating Desjardins.
Stamkos’ goal in the second period was sandwiched by Dustin Byfuglien’s (6) power-play goal and Tobias Enstrom’s (3) wrister that gave the Jets a 3-1 lead.
Rookie Cory Conacher (9) scored early in the third, deflecting Eric Brewer’s shot past Pavelec, but Tampa Bay failed to muster the tying goal.
Assistant coaches Dan Lacroix, Marty Raymond and Steve Thomas—filling in behind the bench temporarily—were satisfied overall with the Bolts’ effort in the game.
“It’s a tight group in the room,” Lacroix told the Tampa Bay Times. “They decided to play hard and play together. They gave it everything they had and just came up short.”
It was a valiant effort for a team fighting for basically nothing at this point, sitting just three points ahead of the cellar-dwelling Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference. The games will be overshadowed in the coming days in the Lightning’s search for a new coach.
“We’re all professionals, and when we come to the rink, we know we all have a game to play,” Stamkos said. “I thought we out-chanced them and this was a good building block for our team with all the uncertainty that will take place in the next couple of days.”
Although the playoffs are almost certainly out of reach, there are many players on the Lightning who will probably be fighting for their jobs heading into next season as this one winds down. They have proven repeatedly they aren’t good enough, and they need to give Yzerman a reason to keep them aboard.
That process begins Tuesday night, when the Lightning return home to face the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game is the first of a three-game home stand for the Bolts, who have just eight home games remaining.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg, in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, begins a stretch of five out of six games on the road, starting with the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. ET. The Jets sit four points ahead of the Canes for first place in the Southeast Division.