TAMPA — The players-only meeting that likely saved the Lightning's season was one that even some veteran players had never experienced.
Sitting together in a conference room at the Edmonton Westin on the afternoon of Jan. 6, the players dissected video of their embarrassing loss in Calgary the night before. Usually, coaches run such sessions, but this no-holds-barred critique was a players-only affair. They watched the entire first period, with nearly half the team speaking candidly, including captain Steven Stamkos, goalie Ben Bishop and veteran Brian Boyle.
The defending Eastern Conference champions were watching their season slipping away. Stunningly stuck out of playoff position, they had lost their edge. Together, they decided, they would find it.
"Maybe we were a little guilty of coming in (this season) and expecting to win games based on our skill set," Stamkos said. "The league's too good to do that. You may get away with it here and there, but to do it consistently, it's too tough. We had a look-yourself-in-the-mirror moment after the Calgary game, and we've responded since then."
The Lightning (27-18-4) won seven straight after the meeting, eight of nine overall, to climb back into playoff position heading into Wednesday's game against the Red Wings at Amalie Arena. Aside from finally having a healthy lineup, the players' film session has been considered a turning point.
"It was more of an eye opener," Bishop said. "I think coaches tell you what to do, but it's something we looked at ourselves, kind of self-corrected instead of being told what to do.
"I think it's a unique situation where I don't think any of us had done that before, had a self-video session, but it was good, it was relaxed. We weren't getting yelled at. It was something we pointed out to each other. It says a lot when you're being corrected by your peers and not your coaches. That made a big difference, and it seemed to kind of spark us."
The team had arrived late that afternoon after a brutal 3-1 loss the previous night in Calgary, having looked lethargic and soft, shocking considering Tampa Bay had played so well the previous game against Minnesota.
"A disturbing loss," associate coach Rick Bowness said.
The Lightning was still three points out of the seventh spot in the East. But with no winning streak longer than three games, Tampa Bay needed to stop its pattern of one step forward, two steps back. Something had to change. The players knew it. So before a scheduled team meeting with coaches, they watched the video of the first period against Calgary. The old saying "tape doesn't lie," applied, the team noticing every bad backcheck and ugly turnover. The compete level wasn't there.
"It was kind of a no hold back and a lot of guys spoke," Bishop said. "More than half the team. It wasn't just a couple guys."
The message was simple. The Lightning needed to be more consistent, put together 60-minute efforts. Blend some will with that skill, the trademark combination from last year's team which set a franchise record for points with 108.
After the players-only video session, the coaches returned to the room and the meeting continued. It was clear everyone was on the same page.
"You bring up points like we did, and it's open for discussion — we're men, if we disagree, we disagree," Bowness said. "But the points we were bringing up, there were no arguments. It was, 'Oh yeah, that's right on.' There was no need for a discussion from us because it was so very evident. Whatever we were talking about was dead on. The players knew it, they saw it and they reacted."
Boyle said the coaching staff has done a good job throughout in teaching and evaluating. But the answer had to come from the dressing room.
"As players, that's a huge aspect," Boyle said. "Coaches understand that when we have the room, it holds a lot of weight if we can talk amongst ourselves. The respect we have for one another, it's huge, that's something that's definitely there. When things aren't going well, we have that. We showed it."
Said Stamkos: "I think deep down we knew (a win streak) was going to happen. I'm not sure if anyone believed in us, but we believed in ourselves."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.