UNIONDALE, N.Y. — In two days, and with one disheartening loss, the Lightning dropped two places in the East into a tie for eighth.
If you want to get technical, Tampa Bay is ninth because of its 1-2 record against the Bruins, who on Thursday beat the Lightning 5-4 and tied it with 63 points.
In other words, if the playoffs, which take the top eight in the conference, began today, Tampa Bay, sixth after Tuesday's win over the Canucks, would be out.
"You see how much you can fall when you lose one game," defenseman Matt Walker said.
Add that teams six through 13 are separated by just nine points, and this weekend's games with the Islanders and Rangers are critical not only in the standings, but for a positive vibe going into the two-week Olympic break.
"Every team thinks they're in it or has a shot to be in it," Walker said. "It seems like we say the same thing every night: 'We're playing a desperate team.' But every team is desperate. It's a rat race right now, and we need to be that way, too."
The Lightning needs more than that.
For starters, it needs equalized scoring. That left wing Marty St. Louis (10) and center Steven Stamkos (eight) have 18 goals over the past 10 games is terrific. That the rest of the team has eight illustrates a lopsided formula that cannot be sustained.
More important, players need to maintain assignments, something coach Rick Tocchet said can be sporadic.
It happened again against the Bruins, who scored four goals in a 12:55 stretch of the first period for a 4-0 lead. It was 5-0 in the second before the Lightning decided to not only work hard, but correctly.
"If you want to be a good team under adversity and under pressure, you have to stay with who you are," Tocchet said. "Just because it's 2-0, you don't start, 'Okay, I'm going to skate on the other side.' You don't just skate somewhere else because you feel like. Then it's 3-0 and 4-0. It's a learning lesson."
What it is, forward Jeff Halpern said, is frustrating.
"It'd be nice to go through a game and think the other team had absolutely nothing and we completely shut them down. I don't know if we have really done that," he said.
"We've given periods, blocks of time in periods and even games where it's been too wide open and we've given up too many chances. It's kind of shift to shift, period to period, but putting together a full 60 minutes is something we need to do."
Today against the Islanders is a good place to start. Tampa Bay cannot afford to give away points to a team it leads by seven.
It is the same with the Rangers, who trail the Lightning by two.
"You want to feel better going into the (Olympic) break," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "You're in the top eight and in great position to make the playoffs. When you're ninth or 10th, your mind-set is you're chasing other teams. Even though it's so close, you want to be in a positive mode."
Of the weekend, Lecavalier said, "It's huge."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.