Lightning coach Guy Boucher did a slow burn after Saturday night's 5-4 shootout loss to the Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome. It's one thing to lose. It's another to lose when one's team was, as Boucher concluded, not really ready to play. "That's unacceptable to start like that," he said of a first period in which the Lightning was outshot 11-5. "We weren't ready to start that game. We're going to take care of that."
To its credit, Tampa Bay outshot Calgary 22-12 the rest of the way, overcame a two-goal third-period deficit and sent the game into overtime on Steven Stamkos' power-play goal with 1:12 left in regulation.
Even so, perhaps the most important lesson of a grueling road trip of four games in five nights that ended 2-1-1 was learned: A team's system and skill mean little if the players aren't focused.
"I'm looking for a playoff-level drive from the beginning of the game. Right now, we don't have that, but we'll get it," Boucher said. "You've got to get yourself in an activated level before the game starts. You have to start the game like you're already in the third period."
Beyond that, Boucher called the trip "very positive."
"We've been able to accelerate the learning curve in terms of the structure and the systems," he said.
It also helped whittle down the preseason roster to 28 as the team cut 21 on Sunday, setting the stage for an interesting battle among Johan Harju, Eric Perrin, Chris Durno, Marc Pouliot and Dana Tyrell for the final one or two spots available at forward.
But the trip wasn't all business. Check out these snapshots.
At every stop in Canada, Wayne Fleming, below, relived memories.
The Lightning assistant coach grew up in Winnipeg and played and coached at the University of Manitoba. He was an assistant last season in Edmonton and has had a home in Calgary for almost 20 years.
Every stop included a reunion.
Fleming, 60, said his 82-year-old mother flew in from Vancouver to see him in Winnipeg, and his three kids who live in the Calgary area visited Friday to celebrate his grandson's first birthday.
Fleming said several Oilers players acknowledged him on the bench with nods. Edmonton right wing Ales Hemsky met Fleming at a back door of the arena after the game.
"It's rewarding and energizing and refreshing," Fleming said. "You always hope to make an impact professionally as far as on the ice, but personally as well, there was a connection."
Besides, he said, "Home is home."
Yzerman: NHL can work in Winnipeg
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman believes an NHL franchise could work in Winnipeg.
"They have a nice arena and a passionate fan base, so I think it is worthy of strong consideration," he said after Tampa Bay beat the Blackhawks in front of more than 14,000 at the MTS Center.
No promises have been made, but when the NHL decides to expand or move a franchise, Winnipeg will be in the conversation even though the old Jets left in 1996 for Arizona and became the Coyotes.
"I don't think it was a lack of fan support. I think it was economics," Yzerman said. "But now the economics have changed. The collective bargaining agreement has changed, and some of the Canadian teams are the strongest (economically) in the league. As long as the (Canadian) dollar is strong, the Canadian cities seem to be doing very well."
Considering a travel party of about 80, the 5,405-mile round-trip went relatively smoothly with all credit to director of team services Ryan Belec.
One notable glitch was the bottleneck of players trying to get to their Calgary hotel rooms. It was 3 a.m. The team had just flown in from Edmonton, and, of course, one of the two elevators was broken.
Some players waited about 25 minutes to get to their rooms, but for goalie Dan Ellis, it wasn't too bad.
"I was up near the front," he said with a smile. "Some of the younger guys are too shy to get up there."
It is one thing to win your first two NHL games. It is another to both times beat the defending Stanley Cup champs. But that is what Lightning goalie Cedrick Desjardins accomplished.
Desjardins stopped 31 shots Wednesday to beat the 2009-10 champion Blackhawks two years after he led the Canadiens to a preseason victory over the 2007-08 champion Red Wings.
"That's the definition of Cedrick Desjardins, a big-game guy," said coach Guy Boucher, who had Desjardins last season at AHL Hamilton. "He's a winner. He's one of those guys, the more pressure the better."
An old friend
Kurtis Foster, whose breakout season for Tampa Bay earned the defenseman a two-year, $3.6 million deal with the Oilers, had not spoken about the death of his 5-day-old daughter until recently with Edmonton reporters. "She had a head injury during birth, and it was determined she wasn't going to be able to live on her own," Foster said of Lila, who died in May in Tampa. "Every day is tough, but my wife and I are doing well. We're excited to be (in Edmonton)."
Former Lightning general manager Jay Feaster always was a strident supporter of the Tampa Bay-Florida rivalry. No surprise, then, that as assistant GM of the Flames, he has jumped right into the Calgary-Edmonton duel. "And even Calgary and Vancouver," Feaster said. "There's not a lot of love lost there. Even at the rookie tournament, the one night Vancouver lost, I said, 'I love to see those guys get beat.' It won't be any problem for me getting revved up for it because it's very real."
Wash, rinse, repeat
General manager Steve Yzerman had so many interview requests, he did a media event at every stop and answered every question, and invariably the same questions, with patience.
"As the manager of the team, you have responsibilities and obligations wherever you go to the media," he said. "You have to have relationships with people. You have to work with them and treat people with respect. Hopefully, they'll respect you in return."
Still, Yzerman is human.
"I'm sure as we go along you're going to catch me at the wrong moment and I'm going to say the wrong thing," he said.
Lightning cuts 21, roster at 28
The most notable cut was right wing Niklas Persson, an accomplished Swedish player who was believed to have been a front-runner for a job. It also is believed he has an option to return to Europe. Forwards Tim Marks and Matt Fornataro were released from their tryouts. Assigned to AHL Norfolk camp:
Forwards — * Mike Angelidis, Alex Berry, Mitch Fadden, * Mitch Fritz, Stefano Giliati, Alex Hutchings, * Blair Jones, * Juraj Simek, * Paul Szczechura, James Wright Defensemen — Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas, Scott Jackson, * Vladimir Mihalik, Kevin Quick, Ty Wishart
Goaltenders — Jaroslav Janus, Dustin Tokarski
* Must clear waivers
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]