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Lightning seeks better starts

Victor Hedman, left, helps teammate Sami Salo celebrate his tying goal Feb. 12 against Montreal. That capped a rally from a 3-0 deficit for a point.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Victor Hedman, left, helps teammate Sami Salo celebrate his tying goal Feb. 12 against Montreal. That capped a rally from a 3-0 deficit for a point.

TAMPA — In its past three games, the Lightning has scored seven third-period goals.

It has earned three points with a shootout loss to the Canadiens (after trailing by three goals with six minutes remaining) and an overtime victory over the Panthers (after trailing by two with 13 minutes left).

Against the Capitals, Tampa Bay trailed by three goals with eight minutes remaining but fell one short of a tie.

Even in a game that lives on the ebb and flow of emotion and energy, the team's ability when its back is to the wall to shift into high gear and dominate an opponent is extraordinary.

What is puzzling is why it can't more often play with the same ferocity.

"You can't," coach Guy Boucher said. "It's physically and emotionally impossible to dominate like that all game. That's a product of total urgency from, 'I don't want to die here.' We can't have that for 60 minutes. That's not the reality of what the game is."

Perhaps, but there is no reason Tampa Bay must wait until it is down by two or three goals with the clock winding down to engage all its cylinders.

Consider that during its current 1-5-1 funk the team has led only 37 minutes, 14 seconds. In three of seven games, it allowed goals in the first five minutes, twice in the first minute.

"We have to find a way to have that urgency that we have when we're down a couple of goals to start the game," Stamkos said. "It's like we're spotting teams leads just so we have an excuse to play like that. That's what good teams do. They play like that from the puck drop."

"Yes, but I want it defensively, not offensively," Boucher said. "That's where it has to be spread out the right way. Our awareness, that urgency, has to be on our defensive side of the game."

Offensively or defensively, the point is the Lightning's late-game surges prove it can dominate opponents. Its 26 third-period goals lead the league.

And even if playing at that level "is tough to maintain for 60 minutes," as Stamkos said, perhaps there are ways to produce it more often.

"Guys are in good shape," center Nate Thompson said. "We feel we have the energy to push all game."

"We have to set the tempo," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "Don't test the waters. Right away, go at it."

A fine sentiment, but as Stamkos said, "At different points in a game you can afford to expend that energy. You have to manage the game like you manage a shift. You're not skating 100 mph every stride. Guys have to work smart, channeling that energy we have and channeling that compete level to get a little higher."

The Lightning came close Saturday against the Panthers with a season-most 36 shots on goal.

"It was the one game I have in my vision in terms of putting pucks on net and guys (in front of the net) and not turning pucks over," Boucher said. "What I didn't like was whenever somebody made a mistake in our D zone somebody tried to cover for it. We can't make another mistake on top of our first mistake."

Good thing there was a third period to straighten it all out.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

Periodic scoring

The Lightning leads the league with 26 third-period goals. How it fares the rest of the game:

PeriodGoals forGoals against
1168
21220
32616
OT10

Lightning seeks better starts 02/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 11:38pm]

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