Friday, November 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

It's desperation time as Lightning chases a playoff berth

RECOMMENDED READING


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 [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Jsmith.

 
Comments
Lightning recalls Cory Conacher from Syracuse

Lightning recalls Cory Conacher from Syracuse

The Lightning recalled forward Cory Conacher from AHL Syracuse on Friday for tonight's game against the Capitals.GM Steve Yzerman said that with a couple players dealing with minor injuries, Conacher's callup provides some depth so that the team coul...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Stamkos: Teams adjusting to hot top line

Stamkos: Teams adjusting to hot top line

Nobody thought the Lightning's hot top line was going to keep up its historic pace all season.Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov have a combined 90 points through the first 21 games, which is just over four points per game."The...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Don’t forget Ryan Callahan in Lightning’s resurgence

Don’t forget Ryan Callahan in Lightning’s resurgence

WASHINGTON — Much has been made about the impact on the Lightning of a healthy C Steven Stamkos, who missed most of last season after knee surgery.But don’t forget about RW Ryan Callahan, 32, who is looking like his old self after hip problems plague...
Published: 11/23/17
Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.Kucherov marveled how the 2015-16 league MVP uses deception to "hide" from defenders. He noticed how patient Kane was with the puck, how well he passed ...
Published: 11/22/17
Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

TAMPA — The Lightning entered Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks determined to avoid its first losing streak of the season. And it did in dramatic fashion, with Brayden Point’s power-play goal in overtime lifting it to a 3-2 victory. "A big boun...
Published: 11/22/17

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Lightning-Blackhawks game

Every Lightning-Blackhawks game at Amalie Arena has a good representation of red in the stands. And Wednesday’s matchup was no exception, with a large contingent of transplants and travelers. "It feels like half the city of Chicago is traveling down ...
Published: 11/22/17

‘Good chance’ Cedric Paquette back for Lightning

For Cedric Paquette, the wait may finally be over.Paquette said there's a good chance he returns to the Lightning lineup tonight against the Blackhawks at Amalie Arena (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). Paquette had missed the last 13 games with an undisclosed inju...
Published: 11/22/17
Lightning-Blackhawks: Tampa Bay is killing it on penalty-killers

Lightning-Blackhawks: Tampa Bay is killing it on penalty-killers

BRANDON — A successful penalty kill begins long before the offending Lightning player, whistled two minutes earlier for some infraction, leaves the box with the score unchanged.It begins with a detailed scouting report of the opposing team’s power pl...
Published: 11/21/17
Lightning impressed with improved offense from defensemen

Lightning impressed with improved offense from defensemen

BRANDON — At one point during Saturday’s game against the Islanders, the Lightning was first in the NHL in points and second in points scored by its defensemen. That’s one reason the team is off to the best start in franchise history.It’s also by des...
Published: 11/20/17
Lightning’s rare loss produces reality check

Lightning’s rare loss produces reality check

TAMPA — Jon Cooper stood at the podium late Saturday night to address the media after a regulation loss for only the third time this season."Let’s be honest," he said, "we’ve had one hell of a start."The loss, he added, was frustrating, even when you...
Published: 11/19/17