ESTERO — Lightning players on Tuesday stood at center ice at Germain Arena and raised their sticks to the 300 or so people who had come to watch.
The salute not only ended a 90-minute practice but two days in which the team tried to break the monotony of a 12-game homestand with golf in Naples, a team dinner and a workout where Tampa Bay shares an ECHL affiliate with the Hurricanes.
"It was great to get away and break up the schedule and the daily routine," defenseman Mattias Ohlund said. "We had a great couple of days."
And now, back to reality.
The Lightning, whose lead in the Southeast Division has shriveled to one point over the Capitals, faces a gauntlet to end the homestand on which it is 5-3-2 but is staggering toward the finish — 2-3-2 in its past seven games and 0-2-1 in its past three.
Tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, it's the Coyotes, who entered Tuesday with a seven-game winning streak. On Friday it's the Devils, who entered Tuesday on a 15-1-2 run.
"Very difficult against two opponents who don't want to lose," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We have to force it down their throat or it ain't going to happen."
And, really, that's what the past two days were all about, getting the players refreshed and refocused and back to playing a style in which they dictate the pace and flow of games.
It hasn't been that way for a while. The power play has 13 goals in 26 games. The penalty kill has allowed goals in seven straight games. And No. 1 goalie Dwayne Roloson is 1-3-1 in his past five starts with a 4.51 goals-against average and .854 save percentage.
No wonder the team needed a break.
Not everyone played golf; some players lounged at the pool and on the beach. And the team dinner helped defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron and Eric Brewer bond with new teammates.
"It's always a mental refresher," said goalie Dan Ellis, who tonight could get his second straight start. "We didn't get away from our practices. We still practiced hard and did what we had to do to learn and build."
One who found more angst than rejuvenation was Boucher, who said he was up until 3 a.m. Tuesday fretting about special teams and whom to start in net.
He does not want his players worrying about the Capitals.
"We don't care about the race," Boucher said. "Every time we start looking at standings and start talking about it, that's when we start having slumps. Our slumps have been very short because we stopped talking about it."
"It's going to come down to the last few games," Ohlund said of the Southeast race. "But the focus for us has to be to worry about ourselves. We're playing some of the best teams in the NHL in the next little while. We have to take our game up a notch. Our game hasn't been fantastic the past few weeks. We've done some good things but we haven't played the way we know we can."
Something which the team hopes a little R & R will cure.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.