Monday, November 20, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Struggling, injured Lightning welcome break

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TAMPA — With the way things are going for the Lightning, coach Jon Cooper could not resist a little gallows humor Friday.

With his cue being the announcement that 20-goal scorer Valtteri Filppula will be sidelined three weeks and will not play for Finland at the Olympics because of a nondisplaced fracture of his right ankle, Cooper said, "It's a tough break, literally."

You can excuse Cooper for not even cracking a smile, especially with the added news that goaltender Ben Bishop also might miss tonight's game with the Red Wings at the Tampa Bay Times Forum because of an upper-body injury also sustained in Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs.

Cedrick Desjardins, called up from AHL Syracuse on Jan. 31 after Anders Lindback was injured, likely will start in net. If that is the case, Kristers Gudlevskis, called up Friday from Syracuse, likely would back up.

Center Vlad Namestnikov also was called up.

Then there is this: The Lightning has lost four of five games, has just three regulation goals in its past three games and is on a 2-4-2 streak at home.

Not long ago, Tampa Bay was challenging the Bruins at the top of the Atlantic Division. Now, with 69 points — only one ahead of the Maple Leafs and Canadiens — it is desperately trying to hang onto second place.

In other words, the NHL's Olympic break, which runs Sunday through Feb. 25, could not come at a better time.

"I'm sure there are teams that are cringing this break is coming up," Cooper said. "We are not one of them."

First, though, Tampa Bay has to deal with the Red Wings, who are on a 6-2-1 streak and only five points behind the Lightning in the Atlantic.

"Backs against the wall and shorthanded," is how Cooper described the challenge.

"I don't think it's time to hit the panic button," captain Marty St. Louis said.

Especially after generating 34 shots against Toronto.

"I'd be more concerned if we had 15 shots," St. Louis said.

Even so, "When you're not scoring, you tend to press a little too much and you're not as relaxed," said Filppula, who was hurt against Toronto. "We need to get a couple and feel comfortable about scoring again."

Cooper is putting a lot of pressure on his players to win this game, the Lightning's last before the Olympic break. And not only to provide something to feel good about waiting for the resumption of games Feb. 27 at Nashville.

"Division opponent," Cooper said of the Red Wings. "We've also lost a lot of our gap between these teams. We are right in the mix of everybody else that is trying to make the playoffs, to put us over that 70-point plateau, to inch ourselves a little bit further ahead.

"When we get back (from the break), all of a sudden it's the end of February. March is right around the corner, and everything starts to turn up in March."

Cooper correctly pointed out the Lightning has been resilient. But losing four of five games in regulation clearly is its worst stretch of the season.

"You don't just sail through a season," Cooper said. "Teams go through these ebbs and flows.

"But when you have a leak in it, you have to find a way to plug it without other holes popping up. We're in the process right now of, we've got to plug these holes."

MINOR MOVE: Defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote is on waivers for the purpose of reassigning him to AHL Syracuse at least through the Olympic break.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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