Coming into their matchup against the Montreal Canadians on Apr. 1, the Tampa Bay Lightning were sitting on a 7-3 record in their last 10 games played. All three of those losses came by a differential of one goal, one coming in overtime and another in a shootout. This is precisely what you would expect from a team playing for an opportunity at making the playoffs.
Coming into their matchup with the Canadians, the Lightning players and coaches alike knew that, if they won, their chances of clinching a playoff spot were quite high. This is precisely what happened. With a 3-1 victory on home ice, the Lightning secured a playoff spot and will likely face the Canadians in the first round. Having secured the playoff spot by defeating the team ,they will likely play first is a huge confidence boost. What has happened since the playoff-clinching victory is far from a boost, and is likely a huge morale crusher.
On Apr. 3, the Calgary Flames made their way to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in the Lightning’s hometown. Despite a non-playoff qualifying record, the Flames are no joke and, as such, the Lightning needed to come into the game without looking over them. Looking past the Flames is exactly what the Lightning did as they made mental mistake after mental mistake and ultimately lost 4-1, their first three goal loss in over a month. After the game, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos stated in an interview on www.nhl.com, “We weren’t ready to play, you can’t play like that if you want to win.”
Coming off a disappointing loss, the Lightning looked to get back on track as they welcomed the playoff chasing Dallas Stars to the Tampa Bay area. This game figured to be more difficult than the game against the Flames, however, the Lightning needed to redeem themselves mentally if they were to keep spirits high. Sixty minutes later, they were handed a 5-2 loss for a second three goal loss in a row. This time, Lightning goalie Ben Bishop stated in an interview on www.nhl.com, “We’ve got to show up to play, we’ve got something to play for…”
Being handed two tough losses in a row at home, especially right before the playoffs, is definitely not what the Lightning wanted to happen. Through those two losses, the Lightning have allowed five goals in the first period. Falling early on in the game at home is a recipe for disaster as the fans will begin doubting the team and the cheering with quiet down. This lack of support has seemingly hindered the team’s ability through this two game stretch.
Of all the downfalls, the one that stands out is the efficiency of Bishop. In the two games prior to the recent stretch, Bishop had a stat-line of 1-1-0 52/56 .929 SV percent, 2.00 GAA. In this two game downfall, Bishop has slipped massively in of posting a stat-line of 0-2-0 44/52 .846 SV percent, 4.00 GAA. This is a serious issue for the Lightning if Bishop continues to struggle as it will get to his head and will leave him in a weakened emotional state going into the playoffs.
At the end of the day, this current trend is unacceptable and cannot continue at this point of the season. With two days off until their next game, the Lightning players need to rest and regather their emotions and discipline, while the coaching staff studies the shortcomings and do their best to device a plan to improve drastically in a short period of time. While the final four regular season games looked meaningless a week ago, those final four are incredibly important now. Expect fireworks.