TAMPA — The spin during the Lightning's team meeting Tuesday at the St. Pete Times Forum went like this:
Had someone told players before the season that after 66 games they would be two points behind the first-place Capitals in the Southeast Division and four points behind the Flyers for first in the Eastern Conference (pending Tuesday night's games), they would have taken it, right?
"Well," coach Guy Boucher said, "that's what we've got."
But Tampa Bay also has angst. For the first time this season, it faces real adversity.
It is on its first four-game losing streak (0-3-1) and is 3-4-3 in its past 10 games while scoring one or two goals eight times. Center Steven Stamkos has a league-best 41 goals but only one in his past 12 games. Simon Gagne has one goal in 15 games. Marty St. Louis has one assist in four games, and Teddy Purcell hasn't scored in six.
Defenseman Mike Lundin, out 13 games with what is believed to be an abdominal injury, might return tonight against the Blackhawks. But at least three players will be out: wings Steve Downie (ankle) and Ryan Malone (stomach), and defenseman Randy Jones, who sustained a high ankle sprain late in Monday's 2-1 shootout loss to Washington.
It's enough to turn even the most optimistic soul into a Gloomy Gus. Hence Tuesday's meeting and focus on the big picture.
"The question of perception is very important so we don't sink with our attitude," Boucher said. "We have to fight negativity right now with our enthusiasm. It's important not just to say it but to do it. So (Tuesday) we went on the ice with big smiles on our faces. We're in a great spot, fighting for something we wanted to fight for all year long."
The way Boucher sees it, the team hasn't played poorly during its losing streak, its only bad period being the first Saturday against the Canadiens in which it fell behind 2-0 in a 4-2 loss. The team hasn't allowed 30 shots on goal in regulation since Feb. 17 against the Red Wings. It just can't score.
"Poise with the puck around the net, that's what we have to work on right now," Boucher said. "Not working harder; we're working as hard as we can. We're banging. We just have to finish."
Instead of working set plays Tuesday, drills were about skill. "We worked on having that confidence in our offensive ability," Stamkos said.
Defenseman Eric Brewer espoused "a lot of dialogue" on the bench and in the locker room. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund said acknowledging "there are things we need to improve shouldn't be the end of the road."
All that was secondary to the work Boucher, with a psychology degree, did on his players' psyche during the meeting. It seemed to take hold. Goaltender Dwayne Roloson even said the team may one day "consider this a turning point for our season. … There's adversity throughout a season all the time. Any time you face it, it makes you stronger. Keep playing the way we're playing. It will turn."
But it has to turn now, St. Louis said. "One bad week is enough. At this time of year, you can't sustain two bad weeks and be where you want to be."