Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher had less than 24 hours to dip into some of the sports psychology he learned while earning a Masters Degree at the University of Montreal in the mid 90’s.
The 2-1 loss to the lowly Ottawa Senators on Friday evening was the Lightning’s sixth game in their last seven contests. Boucher’s boys were having a hard time playing three full periods of hockey and their third period woes seemed endless.
In losing to the 15th and last ranked team in the eastern conference on home ice, the Lightning looked bad for the first 30 minutes. Tampa was now four points behind the Capitals (who beat Carolina) in the Southeast division and now the Bolts once a two seed in the east had dropped to fifth.
What Boucher came up with following his teams lethargic performance was anger, “We’re not as mature a team as I thought,” Boucher said.”We did not have the competitive level we need. Any team can beat you. I’ve said it from the beginning of the year: Against the weakest team or the strongest team, the minute we waste minutes, we’re cooked.”
To make matters worse, the Bolts had to head home following the loss and pack their bags for a four game road trip beginning last night in south Florida against the Florida Panthers. A team that had defeated the Bolts in three of the past four meetings.
So following his comments, which stopped short of naming names, how would his team respond against another team with no chance of playing in the playoffs this season? Well, let us just say this—–the Lightning led every statistical category through two periods but could only manage a 1-1 tie headed into the third period.
After a scoreless first period, each team seemed to find their legs starting in the second but a bad mental lapse by the Lightning led to a Panthers goal just 4:33 into the middle stanza.
The Florida Panthers took advantage of an inopportune and quite honestly, horrific line-change by the Lightning and found themselves in on Bolts defenseman Brett Clark four-on-one. The Cats David Booth beat Lightning Goalie Mike Smith on a wrist shot. , giving his team the 1-0 lead.
Tampa Bay would tie the game at one when they connected with their recently struggling power play. Steven Stamkos added to his league leading goal total with his 43rd, a slap shot from the point off a Marty St. Louis feed. Stamkos teed one up through a screen in front of Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen.
The Stamkos extra man helper saved his teammates after they had just failed to score with a two-man advantage. “It was nice to get one, especially after we didn’t get it on that first 5-on-3,” Stamkos said. “We were able to generate a lot of chances on the power play.”
The Bolts were just five-for their last 31 with the extra man spanning eight games headed into the contest against the Panthers. With a record of just 4-3-1 over that span, the Bolts record also reflected their power play troubles.
Tampa had averaged a paltry 1.75 goals per game over that same eight game span, failing to score more than one goal in four of those contests.
Headed into the third period without the lead was like heading into a Panthers cage with meat tied to their backsides this season. The Bolts had been outscored by 26 goals in the final frame this season, surrendering 73 goals in in the process, seventh worst in the NHL.
The third period began just as the last five periods had ended not all that well for Boucher’s team.
The Panthers scored twice in the first six minutes of the final frame and after being beaten the night before by the 15th and last place team in the east it looked as if the 14th ranked team would do the same. However, three of the Lightning top four scorers this season would rescue the team, and tie the game.
Both goals came within 5-minutes and 30-seconds of each other and both came on the power play, marking the fifth time this season the Bolts would score three or more extra man helpers in one game
The goal that cut the Panthers lead to one came from team captain Vincent Lecavalier with a two-man advantage. Marty St. Louis slid a pass from the lower left circle across the crease to Lecavalier who tipped the puck in past Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen from in close.
The comeback would be complete as the tying goal was scored with just 2:05 remaining in the game. Working the puck free along the sideboards, Steven Stamkos slid a cross-ice pass to Lecavalier just inside the blue line. Lecavalier slapped a shot on goal that Clemmensen turned aside.
Standing at the side of the net was Simone Gagne, who backhanded home the tying goal from a bad angle. Gagne’s 11th of the year was just his second goal in his past 17 games but it could not have come at a better time.
Regulation ended with the score tied at three and all the momentum was now on the side of the Lightning but the Panthers hung in and decided to play end-to-end overtime hockey with Tampa, a move that almost cost them the game.
Although they out-shot the Bolts by a margin of 4-1, Florida allowed the NHL’s two leading scorers on the road this season a two-on one break with under a minute remaining in the extra session.
Martin St. Louis broke out of his own zone and carried the puck into the Panthers zone with Stamkos in his right wing. St.Louis tried to pass the puck to Stamkos about 15 feet from the Florida net to finish the break but Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver simply stuck out his stick and broke up the pass.
Trailing Florida defenseman Marty Reasoner picked up the puck and threw it up the boards to a breaking Mike Santorelli. As so often happens in the NHL, a failed 2-on-1 at one-end leads to a successful one at the other end of the ice.
Santorelli had 26-year-old White Rock, British Colombia native Jason Garrison on his wing, as they broke in 2-on-1 against Lightning defenseman Victor Hedmann. Garrison took a pass from Mike Santorelli and let loose a backhanded flip shot from in close range that beat Mike Smith with just 16 seconds remaining in overtime.
The goal was just Garrison’s fourth of the year but his third game winner. Even though the Bolts had managed to secure a point, they knew that they had missed an excellent opportunity for two.
St. Louis had this to say about his failed pass to Stamkos with his odd man rush opportunity, “I’ve had that play many times this year, and I can’t say I’ve missed many times.” Stamkos added, “That’s the way it’s going for us right now.”
When asked what more the Lightning have to do to start winning more consistently St.Louis said, “”The only thing you can ask of this team is to play hard and keep doing what they’re doing. Obviously we all have to do more.”
Bolts head coach was a bit more upbeat following this loss but not much, “”We fought with everything we had,” Boucher said.”We didn’t quit.” “All the top teams are living the same thing,” Boucher continued.”Today we fought all game and made it happen but it took everything he had,”
This was the seventh game in the last 11 meetings between these two teams where the outcome was decided by just one goal. Four of the last six extended to a shootout but that should be no surprise to Lightning fans, 22 of the Lightning’s last 36 games have been one-goal affairs.
Tampa is 13-4-5 over that span but failed to add to their NHL leading 22 wins in one-goal games against the Panthers last night.
Guy Boucher must collect is troops and their passports as they head North of the border to play the three Canadian teams in the eastern conference this coming week. The stop first in Toronto on Monday to play the Leafs, then from there it is on to Montreal and then a rematch with the Senators next Saturday night.
The Lightning are certainly not in a must win situation but it is getting close. Thursday’s game in Montreal could be for the fifth spot in the east and Tampa does not want to continue to drop in the standings. With just 13 games left on the schedule, Boucher will need to figure out how to jump-start his offense while motivating his young team.
If he does not, a once promising season, with visions of 2004 and another Stanley Cup victory dancing around in the heads of Bolts fans, will remain just that———-visions.