NEW YORK — Brian Lawton did not yell. You could even say he was calm and collected. But there was no mistaking the urgency of the message the Lightning general manager delivered to his players.
Tampa Bay, he said, is surviving on skill and, the way he sees it, not enough will.
"And that's only good for so long," Lawton said, "and we realize that."
Asked what would happen if players did not address the deficiency during the current five-game road trip (not to mention a sixth game in nine days Thursday at home against the Red Wings), Lawton was blunt.
"At that stage, the process is really simple for me," he said. "You ask people if they want to be here, if they want to be a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning."
That was the pressure-packed backdrop for Thursday night's game with the East-leading Rangers. And though Tampa Bay fell 5-2 at Madison Square Garden, it responded with one of its most energetic efforts of the season.
The Lightning (4-4-4), which lost for the first time in regulation in five games, outshot New York 38-35, had the better of play five-on-five and showed much-needed grit.
Left wing Ryan Malone fought big Aaron Voros in a first-period slugfest, and goaltender Mike Smith took on Voros late in the third.
"I don't think the guys dogged it tonight," right wing Marty St. Louis said.
"I thought the players played really well," Lawton said. "I was pleased with the effort. I was pleased with some emotions at the end; we need to see that from our team more. We'll move on and build from it."
The difference was special teams. New York, which entered with the league's second-worst power play, went 3-for-8 with the man advantage, scored short-handed and was paced by Chris Drury's hat trick.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was superb and made 36 saves, allowing only St. Louis' second goal in as many games and Malone's power-play goal that cut New York's lead to 3-2 7:58 into the third period.
But the Lightning continually allowed the Rangers easy set-ups in the offensive zone, and Marc Staal took advantage, scoring from the high slot 29 seconds after Malone's goal.
"We've got to clean up our own end," Smith said. "We're giving up a ton of chances from the slot area, backdoor plays, stuff like that. It's going to bite you sooner or later."
Such things can be remedied.
What bothered Lawton before the game was Wednesday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Devils in which Tampa Bay was outshot 38-27, including 16-7 in the second period during which it allowed two late goals to blow a 1-0 lead.
That the Lightning scored two power-play goals in the third to earn a point for a regulation tie was little consolation for Lawton, especially since New Jersey played without injured goalie Martin Brodeur.
"The biggest thing I want the players to know is that it's not acceptable to come out with a point there against that team," Lawton said. "That was a team that was down, and we have to recognize that and develop more of a killer instinct."
Tampa Bay's instincts were right against the Rangers. As for the loss, "It wasn't a downer," Lawton said. "I feel better about the game than I did (Wednesday)."
First Period—1, N.Y. Rangers, Callahan 5 (Zherdev, Rozsival), 16:09 (pp). Penalties—Malone, TB, major (fighting), 9:54; Voros, NYR, major (fighting), 9:54; Artyukhin, TB (hooking), 14:47; Stamkos, TB (delay of game), 17:28.
Second Period—2, N.Y. Rangers, Drury 3, 14:23 (sh). 3, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 3 (Prospal, Malik), 18:36. Penalties—Gratton, TB (hooking), 7:17; Zherdev, NYR (cross-checking), 13:13; Malik, TB (interference), 19:52.
Third Period—4, N.Y. Rangers, Drury 4 (Gomez, Redden), :35 (pp). 5, Tampa Bay, Malone 3 (Recchi, St. Louis), 7:58 (pp). 6, N.Y. Rangers, Staal 1 (Zherdev, Voros), 8:27. 7, N.Y. Rangers, Drury 5 (Kalinin, Rozsival), 19:32 (pp). Penalties—Redden, NYR (hooking), 6:57; Girardi, NYR (interference), 10:36; Recchi, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:35; Malik, TB (tripping), 16:35; Roberts, TB (unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct), 18:19; M.Smith, TB (high-sticking, slashing, fighting), 18:19; Voros, NYR, minor-major (unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting), 18:19. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 9-15-14—38. N.Y. Rangers 12-9-14—35. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 3; N.Y. Rangers 3 of 7. Goalies—Tampa Bay, M.Smith 3-3-3 (35 shots-30 saves). N.Y. Rangers, Lundqvist 9-3-1 (38-36). A—NA (18,200).