Stamkos calls Bruins game "a true character test"
For the Lightning, there were many things to like about Thursday's game, despite the 3-1 loss to the Sabres.
First of all, new captain Steven Stamkos felt - and looked - good in his first game in four months after recovering from a broken leg. Stamkos said his body responded "better than I expected," feeling no pain Friday after playing 21 minutes the night before.
"I definitely felt like I played a game yesterday," he quipped.
But while coach Jon Cooper liked what he saw from Stamkos, and new forward Ryan Callahan, he felt what was missing the most Thursday was traffic in front of the net. They peppered Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth with 44 shots, but felt he got to see most of them.
That's why Tampa Bay worked on its net front for most of Friday's practice, knowing it'll be vital in Saturday's matchup with the first place Bruins, which have beaten the Lightning in all three meetings this season by a combined score of 11-1. The Lightning has lost eight of its last 11, dropping to fifth in the Eastern Conference, just four points ahead of ninth-place Columbus.
And after a whirlwind and emotional few days, with the trade of Marty St. Louis behind them, it's gut check time.
"It doesn't get much tougher than Boston coming in," Stamkos said. "They've had our number lately. They're extremely physical defensive team that can pounce on any mistakes that you make. This is a true character test for our team right now. We have the guys in there that know they're going to be here and we can't be comfortable. We have to realize where we are in the standings. I know it's one game at a time, but there was one time we had 10-11 point cushion and now it's four. That's the reality and we have to go live up to that reality."
Cooper acknowledges that this is the biggest "rut" his team has been in all year, but feels it got back Thursday to the intensity and work ethic it displayed in the strong first half of the season.
"If we play with that effort and tenacity," Cooper said. "We'll start getting back in the win column."
It'll be a tough task against the Bruins.
"Maybe it helps in the odds factor. At some point, we have to beat them, don't you think?" Cooper joked. "It doesn't matter if we're playing the Boston Bruins or the Boston Junior Bruins, we need to concentrate on what our game is. We took some big strides getting back to where we were in the first half of the year, and I don't expect anything less tomorrow."
More from Friday's practice: D Radko Gudas practiced Friday in a red non-contact jersey. Cooper said Gudas is still in some pain, and won't play Saturday, but is hopeful for next week... Cooper said D Victor Hedman got shaken up a little bit on Thursday, but is okay... Cooper said they "eased" Callahan in during his first game, when he led the team with four hits in 16 minutes, 33 seconds. Cooper said Callahan will play more, in more situations, potentially the power play, Saturday.