The Tampa Bay Lightning sit four points behind the third seed, just five points away from the eighth, and they know it’s crunch time.
But the mood of the team after its 3-1 loss to the pitiful Buffalo Sabres* was not one of desperation, failure or abject hopelessness. Rather, things felt cautiously optimistic, hopeful. The team sounded resilient.
*Buffalo has a league-worst 46 points and has won 10 games in regulation the entire season. And has won 10 games in regulation the entire season…
Sure, they only spoke in hackneyed clichés and tired adages, but the feeling in the locker room* was one of a team that knew it was in a slump. And it seemed this was just the game they needed to remind them how to get out of it.
*It should be noted that those made available to the media after the loss were Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn and coach Jon Cooper.
Cooper may not have been smiling, but he sounded like a coach who was comfortable with the direction his team was headed.
If we keep playing this way, he said, the wins will come. He called the Lightning’s four losses in a five-game stretch a once-in-a-season type of rut. More importantly, he said, newly minted captain Steven Stamkos, in his first game back from a broken tibia that has kept him out since Nov. 11, was already the most dangerous player on the ice.
“If that’s the worst game he plays for us,” Cooper said, “then things are going to look really good.”
From the outside, though, things just look jumbled and confusing. Because while the Tampa Bay Times Forum may have long completed renovations, the Lightning look like a team still trying to put together the pieces after the NHL’s Wednesday trade deadline, which sent captain Martin St. Louis* to the New York Rangers for captain Ryan Callahan and a pair of draft picks.
*He was barely mentioned in the locker room afterwards and erased from all hype videos, posters, etc. in the Forum. Except in one place…
The Bolts will have to finish a season without St. Louis for the first time since 2000. Every member of the 2004 Stanley Cup team is gone. And while it might be easier for the players to forget St. Louis and rebuild the locker room dynamic, that’s some serious point production that’s not coming back.
And how will Callahan fit in* with the club? Should Stamkos have been made captain so quickly?
*Callahan may also be a short-term rental for the Lightning. His contract runs out at the end of the season and is a major reason why the Rangers were willing to deal him. He wants more money than he probably deserves.
As for Thursday’s loss to Buffalo, it was just “one of those games.” One team (Tampa Bay) clearly outplayed the other (Buffalo), outshooting them by a wide margin (44 to 21) and losing anyway because of a hot goalie (Jhonas Enroth).
The important things to take away as the Bolts prepare for Saturday’s date with the Boston Bruins?
Stamkos is back,* Bishop is healthy and the team is in playoff position with 13 of their final 19 games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
*And playing well. He registered five shots against Buffalo and was all over the ice in his 21:03.
If they can play like they did against Buffalo, albeit getting some bounces to go their way, everything is going to be just fine.
What does everybody else think? Share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.