TAMPA — In trying to break out of its shootout slump, the Lightning tried a little bit of everything.
The players practiced it. They tried different shooters. They even tried "rally caps," wearing their helmets backward on the bench.
But in finally coming through Thursday night with a 4-3 shootout win over the Wild, snapping an 0-for-14 skid by its shooters, the Lightning used a strategy that center Steven Stamkos said it has been working on and hopes will work in the future, too:
The shooters keeping their mind — and their shooting options — open.
Thursday, instead of skating toward the goalie with a set plan on making a specific move, Stamkos positioned his stick a certain way, leaving open the possibility of shooting or dekeing (which he did, and scored the winner), depending on what the Wild's Niklas Backstrom did.
Coach Rick Tocchet and assistant Adam Oates have been preaching that method recently, and Tocchet pulled Stamkos aside before his shootout attempt Thursday to give one of the game's best young stars a reminder of how one of the best players of all time attacked breakaways.
"I stopped (Stamkos) before he said what he was going to do," Tocchet said. "I said, 'You're going to do what Mario Lemieux did. He either went top shelf, through the legs or deked. … And (Stamkos) is such an instinct player, he made obviously a terrific move."
Stamkos said he had been working on the different approach in practice, one where the goalie "doesn't really have a read off your stick." But as Oates, one of the game's greatest passers, said, keeping an open mind isn't as easy at it sounds.
"In the heat of the moment, it's a little more magnified, you're a little more nervous, you're coming in, and the ice is garbage," Oates said. "The puck starts bobbling on you. … It's not that easy to keep the puck controlled and keep your nerves controlled."
But Oates explained how it's important for a player not to be set in his ways.
"Let's say you're going to deke the goalie," he said. "And then the goalie is so far back in the net, you're going to have to shoot it. But if you have a one-track mind, you're not going to be free to move."
Captain Vinny Lecavalier, who scored the Lightning's first goal in Thursday's shootout, also altered his approach a bit, skating in with more speed before shooting between the legs of Backstrom.
Though Lecavalier said "the whole time I knew what I was going to do," he added, "you do have to change it up sometimes. You can't use the same move every time."
Lecavalier said winning its first shootout in five tries this season doesn't guarantee the Lightning will have the same result going forward, but he acknowledged it's a confidence booster.
Said Stamkos, "It's big now that we got the monkey off our back in the shootouts. We scored a couple goals, the goaltenders have been great in them lately, it's been great. Next time we get in one, we know we can win."
So, no more rally caps?
"No," Stamkos said, smiling. "We got rid of those."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.