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Diversions can't mask core of Tampa Bay Lightning's recent struggles

Lightning coach Guy Boucher has worked very hard to take the pressure off his players during their recent struggles.

You can hear it in his voice, which was understated and measured the day after Tuesday's brutal loss to the Islanders when questions arose about panicking.

You can decipher it in his rhetoric, which regularly includes references to how difficult it has been with top-six forwards Steve Downie and Ryan Malone out of the lineup because of injuries.

To explain Tampa Bay's annoying habit of losing to teams it should stomp, Boucher chalks it up to bottom-feeding teams playing loose because they do not feel the pressure of a playoff chase.

It all is true, but it also is a smokescreen. It is a crafty way for a coach with a degree in applied psychology to divert some attention from his players, who, for the most part, just haven't played very well lately.

It is a fine strategy. John Tortorella used it brilliantly during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs when he told Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock to "shut your yap." Instantly, Tortorella was the story, and his players got a break from the media scrutiny of a hard-fought series.

Think about it. Was the real story during the weekend series with the Hurricanes about finally facing a team that is feeling the same playoff-chase pressure as the Lightning, or that Steven Stamkos entered with just three goals in 19 games and the team had allowed three shorthanded goals in its previous two?

Yes, it has been tough without Downie and Malone. But every team deals with injuries.

The Penguins have been without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and they still might chase down the Flyers in the Atlantic Division.

Perhaps bigger issues for the Lightning are that Stamkos and Marty St. Louis were a combined minus-29 in 19 games entering the Carolina series and the team simply hasn't shown enough urgency or work ethic.

The Lightning has been a great story and has created expectations higher than they should be.

But whatever has been ailing the team will not be solved by the opponents it plays. It will be solved by the players, something of which we shouldn't lose sight.

Diversions can't mask core of Tampa Bay Lightning's recent struggles 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 9:44pm]
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