Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

It's desperation time as Lightning chases a playoff berth

TAMPA

Any margin for error the Lightning had left in its playoff fight was wiped away with back-to-back losses.

Tampa Bay still has a shot, two points out of the final wild-card spot in the East behind Toronto, which has a game in hand. But with just 11 games to go, the Lightning has its work cut out for it, including a challenging schedule.

The first step is not getting deflated by its first losing streak since Jan. 31-Feb. 2.

"We can't let this break us," defenseman Victor Hedman said.

This run the Lightning has been on, now 12-4-3, has been mentally and physically draining. There were four games in six nights, all done with an injury-depleted lineup filled with six rookies. That's why the two days before the next game, Tuesday against Arizona, are much-needed.

But the Lightning needs a serious run the final three weeks, having to beat out the Islanders (one point ahead) and Toronto for a postseason berth. Tampa Bay has one more head-to-head with the Maple Leafs (April 6 in Toronto).

"I don't think we can start looking at other teams hoping for them to lose," wing Alex Killorn said. "If we do that, I don't think we have a chance. We have to focus on ourselves and win games. We can't leave it in their hands."

Here's what Tampa Bay can do to make it:

Secondary scoring

Wing Nikita Kucherov has been playing like an MVP, carrying the Lightning with 23 points in his past 13 games. That includes two goals in Saturday's 5-3 home loss to the Capitals, his 33rd of the season. But Kucherov can't do it alone. His line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat all logged 20 minutes Saturday. Alex Killorn snapped a 16-game goal drought with a first-period goal, and both he and Jonathan Drouin (12-game drought) must chip in offensively.

"We need some scoring from more guys, myself included," Killorn said. "I haven't been scoring enough, I haven't been producing enough in the last 15 games. We need a lot more from a lot of guys. We need to step up."

Tighten up defensively

A trademark of Tampa Bay's run has been its play defensively. Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed one goal or fewer in six of his first seven starts after the Ben Bishop trade. But the Lightning has given up five goals in each of the past two games. And while you can't pin it on Vasilevskiy, that's not going to get the job done. In Thursday's loss to the Maple Leafs, it was soft and sloppy play in front of the net that cost the Lightning. On Saturday, there were mental lapses at critical points.

Get healthy

The lower-body injuries to centers Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette have lingered longer than their day-to-day labels. Johnson and Paquette have missed the past five games and haven't skated with the team since March 16. Namestnikov returned Monday in New York before re-aggravating his injury, though he has skated with the team in a red noncontact jersey the past two days. Byron Froese was reassigned to AHL Syracuse on Sunday, which could be a good sign.

Then there's the wild card in captain Steven Stamkos (knee surgery), who is getting closer to a return. But he has had just one full team practice (Friday), and he likely needs a few more before playing.

A look ahead

Here's how the Lightning's remaining schedule compares with the fellow contenders for the final wild-card spot:

Lightning

Points: 77

Games remaining: 11

Home: 6 (ARZ, CHI, DET, MTL, DAL, BUF)

Away: 5 (BOS (2), DET, MTL, OTT, TOR)

vs. playoff teams: 7

Maple Leafs

Points: 79

Games remaining: 12

Home: 7 (BOS, FLA, WAS, TB, PIT, CBJ)

Away: 5 (CBJ, BUF (2), NSH, DET)

vs. playoff teams: 6

Islanders

Points: 77

Games remaining: 11

Home: 4 (BOS, NSH, NJD, OTT)

Away: 7 (NYR, PIT, PHI, BUF, NSH, CAR, NJD)

vs. playoff teams: 6

Panthers

Points: 73

Games remaining: 11

Home: 6 (CAR, ARZ, CHI, MTL, STL, BUF)

Away: 5 (BUF, TOR, BOS, MTL, WSH)

vs. playoff teams: 6

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Jsmith.

It's desperation time as Lightning chases a playoff berth 03/19/17 [Last modified: Monday, March 20, 2017 11:11am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays journal: Erasmo Ramirez ready to start a day after closing game

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — RHP Erasmo Ramirez was on the mound to finish Sunday's 15-inning marathon win over the Twins and will start tonight's game against the Rangers.

    The Rays’ Erasmo Ramirez throws 12 pitches in the 15th inning against the Twins to earn the save then says after the game that he’s ready to make his scheduled start against the Rangers: “My arm feels good.”
  2. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  3. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.
  4. Takuma Sato surprise winner of wreck-filled Indy 500

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Takuma Sato, a journeyman driver, became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when he held off three-time champion Helio Castroneves in a 230-mph wheel-rubbing duel to the finish.

    Scott Dixon’s car goes over the top of Jay Howard, soaring so high that Helio Castroneves drove under it while it was airborne. Stunningly, there were no serious injuries.
  5. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Sunday's Rays-Twins game

    The Heater

    The Rays won because they got two innings of good relief from each of the two pitchers who contributed to them losing Saturday's game, Danny Farquhar (who again struck out Miguel Sano) and Tommy Hunter, who both posted zeroes.