TAMPA — For the Lightning, a group that has played too tentatively at crucial times, the answer might be as simple as stringing together a few short passes.
There's nothing quite like controlling the puck to ease any nerves and to ease into a game.
"We definitely need more poise," center and captain Vinny Lecavalier said after Thursday's disheartening 6-2 loss to the Sabres. "Execution might be the right word. Making those little short passes. Making the game easier for us. I think we made it difficult."
In contrast, the Sabres knocked the puck around with laser-like precision, especially in the opening period, when they scored three times (and it could have been more) to all but put the game away.
"We're working hard, but if the execution's not there (against a team like Buffalo), they're going to spend a big portion of the game in your zone," Lecavalier said. "That's what happened."
To a man, the Lightning realizes if it plays the same way tonight, the result could be very much the same.
The Southeast Division-leading Capitals are that good offensively; they've scored 280 goals, far and away the best in the NHL (the Canucks are second with 233). And oh yeah. Forward Alex Ovechkin, the league's top scorer with 96 points (44 goals and 52 assists), has served his two-game suspension for a hit on Chicago's Brian Campbell on Sunday and is eligible to return to the lineup.
"They're a team, if we don't bring our A game, they can embarrass us pretty quick," defenseman Kurtis Foster said. "But I have trust in all the guys in here that we'll all be ready and we'll bring out the best in each other."
They had better. With 12 games left, the Lightning (28-30-12) still is alive for the playoffs, but barely. It's not only six points behind Boston for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference, it's behind three teams in all. The Thrashers and Rangers are three points behind the Bruins.
"Nobody's going to feel sorry for us," wing Marty St. Louis said. "We've got to fight till the end. I believe we will, and we'll see what happens."
For the Lightning fight to be successful will require the simplest of acts: pinpoint passing.
"I've got to give them credit. They're still working," coach Rick Tocchet said. "But for whatever reason, there's a stretch in games where we just start making one play after another — nervousness, throwing the puck away, then all of a sudden it's 2, 3-0 and you can't recover.
"We're trying to be a team that can be poised. I've got to find better ways to get this team to be poised."
He did give the players Friday off.
"We just have to relax out there," said wing Steve Downie, who has had his share of run-ins with Ovechkin to spice up the rivalry between the teams. "Relax and settle down. And pass the puck."