TAMPA — Think of this for a moment:
If the Lightning beats the Canadiens tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum, the team will have its first three-game winning streak of the season.
Now think of this:
Tampa Bay has not won more than two straight in exactly a year. Whom did it beat Jan. 27, 2009 at the Times Forum to win its third in a row?
The Montreal Canadiens.
But a foreteller of what is to come? Better not count on such coincidences, especially considering Tampa Bay failed four previous times this season to add to two-game streaks, once with an overtime loss to Montreal.
"That is significant," left wing Alex Tanguay said. "We should be able to rack up three wins in a row. Looking at a year, that's a long time not to get three in a row."
No surprise then, the Lightning's season is edging toward a crisis.
With 52 points, the team entered Tuesday just three out of the East's final playoff spot but had five teams to leapfrog. In other words, unless it strings some wins together real soon, its postseason drought will reach three years.
"It would be really important right now to win three, four, five," goaltender Antero Niittymaki said. "Then, all of a sudden, you're up in the standings three or four spots. It would be huge."
Asked if he believed Tampa Bay can make that kind of run, he said, "We can do it. We won six, seven out of 10."
Actually, the Lightning won six of nine from Dec. 18 through Jan. 8. A 6-1-5 streak from Oct. 22 through Nov. 19 produced points in 11 of 12 games.
"That's why," Niittymaki said, "I can't see why not."
What does it take to put together a winning streak?
"You have to play consistent, obviously," coach Rick Tocchet said. "You have to have your best players playing their best. Your goaltender has to be solid. Your special teams have to be on their game. You have to have those four or five things going for you.
"For the most part, we haven't got the four or five of them on a consistent level every game. We might have two of the five or three of the five, but we have yet to put a string together when we're humming on all cylinders six, seven games in a row."
Tocchet pointed to the Flames, who won four straight to start the season, and had streaks of three straight and two of four straight before the end of November.
It currently is on a seven-game losing streak but entered Tuesday tied for the West's last playoff spot.
"We've hammered ourselves because we haven't had that long winning streak," Tocchet said. "We haven't given ourselves a cushion where if you have a bad two weeks, you're still there. We can't have a bad two weeks."
What it needs is a few really good weeks.
"Unless we can put a streak together, it's going to be tough to move up," Tanguay said. "It'd be nice to rack up six, seven, eight in a row."
"Five would be good," wing Marty St. Louis said. "But let's try for three first."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.