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Tampa Bay Lightning mistakes put postseason at risk

TAMPA — For 70 excruciating minutes Wednesday, Lightning players watched the errors of their ways.

There were bad passes and bad decisions. There was bad positioning on defense, a lack of puck possession and intensity. And that was just through the first two periods of Tuesday's embarrassing 8-2 loss to the Rangers.

"I honestly didn't even get to the third period," coach Rick Tocchet said of the flogging by video that took the place of an on-ice practice.

"It was tough," defenseman Matt Smaby said. "That video showed all our faults. It's time for us to take ownership of what we're doing wrong."

If they don't, players will have no one to blame but themselves for missing the postseason for the third straight season.

Consider that despite raging inconsistency that has kept it from winning three straight and thanks to a mediocre conference, the Lightning, with 48 points, is just four points out of the East's eighth and final playoff spot.

On the other hand, only four teams in the league have fewer points, meaning Tampa Bay is much closer to the bottom of the standings than the top.

"We have to think positive, though, think positive," left wing Ryan Malone said. "We should be going forward.

"We haven't played well, and we're still only four points out. We'll take that right now. I made a little joke that if we get our game together, we should be peaking at the right time."

This isn't rocket science. Tampa Bay must pass better, get more pucks to the net, be aware of opponents' whereabouts (sometimes they are behind you), be stronger on the puck and much stronger in its own zone, especially around the net.

Off the ice, it is a bit more complicated, Tocchet said: "You're looking for someone to step up, for somebodies to take hold of this team and do it the right way."

Tocchet said that means doing something "uncharacteristic."

"If you're a guy who is quiet, maybe you have to stand up and break a few sticks," he said. "If you're a guy who yells all the time, maybe you have to sit and pat people on the back."

It is not all on captain Vinny Lecavalier.

"It can't be just one guy. It has to be a group, everybody together," Tocchet said. "I don't know if guys are scared to ruffle feathers. Maybe guys are too nice to each other.

"I've always told guys, 'Don't be afraid to call a guy out. Even if he's your buddy or a good player, call your buddy out. Get your (behind) moving.' Nothing wrong with that."

Or with 70 minutes of video.

"We're at a critical point in the season," Lecavalier said. "This is it. This is the time you have to win. As bad as it's been, we're four points away from eighth."

In other words, Smaby said, "We have to take advantage of where we are even though we aren't happy with how we got there."

HEDMAN COULD BE BENCHED: It might be time to sit struggling rookie defenseman Victor Hedman, even if only for one game, Tocchet said:

"He's been making some mistakes, so we might have to take a step back with him. He might have to watch a game. There's nothing wrong with that. We did it (last season) with (Steven) Stamkos."

Hedman, 19, has four goals and 14 points in 47 games and is averaging 21:57 of ice time. But he is minus-6 in his past seven games and has just one shot in his past two.

Smith takes step: Goaltender Mike Smith, out four games with a neck strain, faced shots for the first time since leaving a Jan. 12 game with the Capitals. Tocchet said Smith is "close" to being ready but sounded as if Antero Niittymaki will start tonight against the Maple Leafs at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning mistakes put postseason at risk 01/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 10:16pm]
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