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Tampa Bay Lightning makes 'statement' at opportune time

It’s a group hug for Ryan Malone, right, who scored Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Islanders, a victory that ended a five-game Lightning losing streak.

DIRK SHADD | Times

It’s a group hug for Ryan Malone, right, who scored Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Islanders, a victory that ended a five-game Lightning losing streak.

BRANDON — Sometimes it is difficult to discern from where inspiration comes.

Take the Lightning's 4-1 victory Thursday over the Islanders. When it was over and Tampa Bay had snapped its five-game losing streak, center Steven Stamkos said it was "a statement game," a reminder among teammates about how they need to play.

But as much as players talked about it Friday at the Ice Sports Forum, no one could put a finger on exactly when desperation took hold. There was no team meeting, no impassioned speeches.

"I think you just come to a point," Stamkos said, "where enough is enough."

The moment may turn out to be a small one — one game does not avert a crisis, and the Lightning (2-3-2) has a huge challenge tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum against the red-hot Sabres — but that it bubbled up from within the locker room means players have begun policing themselves, coach Guy Boucher said.

And that, he added, is the only way teams get better.

"We direct. We talk about it. We show the video," Boucher said of the coaches. "But (the players) have to do it, especially after a year of the guys knowing what we're about. I think there was a position by the players to make it their own."

The unspoken directive was to play within the team structure.

That meant defense first, primarily by limiting a foe's speed through the neutral zone. The Lightning, which had averaged 38 shots against, allowed New York 17.

It meant not taking lazy, dumb penalties. After entering the game having been shorthanded a league-worst 36 times, Tampa Bay gave New York just two power plays.

It meant responding to what Boucher called the "slap in the face" of a losing streak that included a 7-4 loss to the Panthers in the Lightning's home opener.

"We were a little embarrassed by that," Stamkos said. "We knew we had to come out (Thursday) and not guarantee a win but guarantee that we were going to play a lot better."

But how did the message spread? As far as we know, no Lightning player is telepathic.

"It just came as a group," defenseman Brett Clark said. "When things aren't going well, it's up to the players in the room. Coaches can only say so much. The onus is on the players to go out there and perform and stay disciplined and do what we need to do to win."

"Collectively, everyone had to look at themselves," left wing Ryan Malone said, "and make sure you're focused on what your job was, and everything will take care of itself."

If there is danger, it is that having made its "statement," the Lightning cannot waste it with a clunker against Buffalo.

"I don't see danger," Boucher said. "All I see in my mind is building."

"Every game is not a statement game," Stamkos said. "We just want to win."

NOTES: Nate Thompson is expected to play tonight, Boucher said, though the center didn't practice for what was called body maintenance. … Minor-league defenseman Scott Jackson (knee) cleared waivers and will be sent to AHL Norfolk.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

Tampa Bay Lightning makes 'statement' at opportune time 10/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2011 9:33pm]
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