SUNRISE — For Vinny Lecavalier, the Lightning's problems with the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center come down to focus.
Honestly, the captain said, there hasn't been much:
"For some reason, when we play there, we're not ready to go. It seems like we always have a bad first period, and we try to come back, and lots of times it's too late.
"But that's definitely in the past," Lecavalier added. "That is definitely going to change."
Tampa Bay's futility in South Florida, where it plays tonight in the Panthers' home opener, is staggering — 6-13-2 since 2003-04.
Think about that.
A team that won the 2004 Stanley Cup and has been to the playoffs twice since then has earned just 14 of a possible 42 points against a team that hasn't been to the postseason since 2000.
It doesn't get much better in the big picture. The Lightning in South Florida overall is 13-25-4, with four ties.
"It happens throughout the NHL," defenseman Brett Clark said. "In Colorado, Detroit had our number for years. It comes down to a mental philosophy. If you know going into a game you're not going to win — and a majority of the time that's what happened in Colorado — you don't."
"It's definitely something where you have to change the culture," right wing Adam Hall said. "I know we've talked about how we want to treat every game like a home game. We don't want to believe in road games. We want to be able to go in with the mind-set we're going to do what it takes to win whether it's home or the road."
Despite their overall lack of success, the Panthers are a feisty squad at home, going 120-81-38 with seven ties since 2003-04. The Lightning on the road in that stretch: 100-114-30, with four ties. The past three seasons: 36-68-19.
That is why Tampa Bay's two road wins this season in tough places to play as part of a 3-0-0 start are so encouraging.
The 3-2 victory Thursday in Philadelphia was a grind, the 4-3 overtime win at Montreal on Wednesday a wide-open thriller. So the team can adapt.
And though coach Guy Boucher called the season "a puzzle game right now" because different aspects of play have been good and bad in each game, Tampa Bay battles, which is important against the hard-working Panthers.
Ten new players this season also means a reduced sense of the sour history. As Hall put it, "I didn't even know that was our record in South Florida."
"It's perspective," Boucher said. "The glass is always half full or half empty. It's a choice you make. I've had rinks where I hated playing because the lighting was off or I had one bad game or the (locker) rooms were small. There's always a reason why you feel good or don't feel good, but you decide what it's going to be."
For example, he said, "The Flyers had won the last five against the Lightning, correct? So we won (Thursday). So it's not about the past. What's in the past, what's in the future, brings anxiety and problems. What's in the present, you tend to do pretty well at that."
In the present for the Lightning is a chance to sweep a tough three-game road trip and a chance to open a schedule with four wins for the first time since the 2003-04 Cup season.
"We want to keep it going," Lecavalier said. "This is an important game for us. We know that."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]m. Follow his coverage at lightning.tampabay.com.