Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning keeps ups and downs in perspective

TAMPA — Wing Alex Killorn said the entire team knew its pregame meeting Tuesday wasn't going to be pleasant.

The Lightning had been embarrassed 6-1 by the Rangers on Sunday in Madison Square Garden. It was the Lightning's third loss in a row, and by far the ugliest one. Now players would have to relive it in the routine film session.

"It's tough to watch, kind of cringe-worthy sometimes," veteran center Brian Boyle said. "It probably could have been 15 or 16-1 in New York. It was brutal."

No poignant players-only meeting, no punitive practice sparked the Lightning's bounce-back 6-1 victory against the Islanders on Tuesday, a streak-snapping win it hoped would be a springboard. As often is the case, the Lightning coaches used video sessions to bring issues to the big screen.

As they say, film doesn't lie.

"When you're on the ice, you know you made a mistake," Killorn said. "But you can't get away from it because it's always on video. A lot of times you play well in games, so you don't show up on video. It's a learning point.

"We realize there's ebbs and flows in a season, but we wanted to stop it as soon as possible."

Tuesday's film session wasn't all a blooper reel, a screen full of shame. Coach Jon Cooper and his staff also put on highlights of games in which the Lightning had played well this season. "To see if we can replicate it," Killorn said.

Cooper said one of the biggest things he has learned in his four years as an NHL coach — especially last season — is when to push players and when to pull back.

It's not always easy, especially when a Stanley Cup favorite is floundering out of the gate.

"You can't get too low in this business," Cooper said. "Because if you start beating (yourself) up every single time you lose a hockey game, you're going to be in trouble. It'll just drive you crazy. You can't get too high when things are going well, and you've just got to find that balance.

"I think earlier, in my first couple years, I was either too hard on myself or too hard on my team if a game didn't go the way we wanted it to. There's that fine line of … pushing the players to the brink but then pulling off when you had to."

Cooper said it's a collective effort. Case in point: Last season's players-only film critique in January, which was organized by coaches. After an awful loss in Calgary and with Tampa Bay's playoff position tenuous, the team met in a hotel in Edmonton for an eye-opening self-assessment. The Lightning won seven straight after that, eventually reaching the Eastern Conference final.

"I've been with this group a while now," Cooper said. "When they've been pushed up against the wall, they usually have a pushback."

No matter who is the messenger.

"The big thing with this group is, we're one team," captain Steven Stamkos said. "The coaching staff and leadership group, the players, everyone has to be held accountable when the team is not going well. It's not just certain people when we're winning that's going well. We see the video, see when things aren't going well we need to correct things internally. And we did that."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Folllow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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