TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle sat at his locker with head in sweaty hands after Wednesday's practice at the St. Pete Times Forum, trying to make sense of a season gone bad.
"I don't know, man," he finally said. "I've been here six years. This is the most frustrated I've ever been."
Star center Vinny Lecavalier knows the feeling.
"We have to change our ways," he said.
They have 16 games.
It is no longer about the playoffs for the Lightning, last in the East and loser of seven of eight. It is not about individual goals.
The season's final games are about players simply feeling better about themselves; perhaps winning more than they lose to go into the offseason with a sense the team is headed in the right direction.
Coach John Tortorella called it creating a "culture of winning."
"We can't lose our concentration because these games don't mean a lot in the standings," he said. "They mean a ton to us, a ton. It's so important for us, right now, to start getting on the right road so we can bring it into camp. It's imperative we don't get lackadaisical."
That is why Tuesday's 2-0 loss to the Penguins was so disappointing. Tampa Bay played a heck of a game, and goaltender Mike Smith was as advertised, but a late third-period lapse by Lecavalier led to the winning goal.
It is why tonight's game with the Flyers at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center is so critical.
"We've got to get results," wing Marty St. Louis said. "We've got to win some games and make people feel good about themselves."
It is difficult to precisely describe a "culture of winning."
Boyle boiled it down to confidence. St. Louis called it a "feeling of achievement … pouring through your pores."
Tortorella believes it is about what happens in the locker room.
"It's hard to describe because it is an intangible, but the right culture in the room brings winning," he said. "What it is is a swagger. It's a self-confidence of an individual, and it's a self-confidence of a team that we can get this done in many different situations."
Given Tampa Bay has lost 16 times when tied or leading heading into the third period, "We're definitely not a confident bunch," Boyle said.
"And it doesn't change overnight," Tortorella said. "It's one of the most difficult things you can do in a team sport because you're dealing with so many different people and so many different personalities."
The Lightning also is without a strong central personality around which to rally as it did with captain Dave Andreychuk leading to the 2003-04 Stanley Cup season.
Until someone steps up — perhaps from the core of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Boyle and defenseman Paul Ranger or even, eventually, newly acquired Jeff Halpern, a former Capitals captain — Tampa Bay will have to rally around victories.
"It's been ugly this year," Tortorella said. "But do you cower and just want to get through it? Or do you start trying to get better at it now?"
Only 16 games to go.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.