WINNIPEG — Their coach was fired, their general manager explained how much they still had to play for, and then Lightning players had to face the Jets in the second of back-to-back games.
"An emotional day," assistant coach Dan Lacroix said.
And it ultimately was disappointing as Tampa Bay fell 3-2 Sunday night at the MTS Centre to finish a Canadian trip 0-3-0.
But there was solace in that the team played one of its better games in a while. It certainly had more passion and urgency than in losses Wednesday and Saturday to the Maple Leafs and Senators, respectively, that helped get coach Guy Boucher fired.
In fact, if not for goaltender Ondrej Palat, who made 23 saves, the Lightning (13-18-1) might have won with Lacroix and fellow assistants Marty Raymond and Steve Thomas running the bench.
"I'm proud of the guys," center Steven Stamkos said. "I definitely thought we played a solid game. I thought we deserved a little better fate."
Stamkos scored his league-best 22nd goal. Marty St. Louis' assist gave him 892 points to tie ex-Capital Peter Bondra for 100th all time. And Cory Conacher's tip-in of Eric Brewer's floater 5:01 into the third made the score 3-2.
But Pavelec was a monster, especially when he stopped Conacher's backhander on a second-period breakaway with a lunging glove save.
"We wanted to win this game for the coaching staff that was on the bench," Conacher said, and then tipped his hat to Pavelec. "A great save."
"It's a tight group in the room," Lacroix said. "They decided to play hard and play together. They gave it everything they had and just came up short."
The day began with the news Boucher had been fired followed by a meeting with GM Steve Yzerman.
After stressing, "We all share the responsibility of where we sit today," Yzerman added, "There's a lot to play for. There's fighting for a playoff spot, playing for your teammates, playing for your own job, playing for your position."
The Lightning made mistakes.
Stamkos' errors led to two goals as he had the puck poked off his stick in the defensive zone by Blake Wheeler before Bryan Little's first-period goal. He also in the defensive zone lost track of Tobias Enstrom, who was free in the slot to score on goalie Cedrick Desjardins for a 3-1 second-period lead.
But overall, the Lightning had the better of play. Pavelec was just up to the task.
Said center Nate Thompson: "I thought he stole the game for them."
First Period—1, Winnipeg, Little 5 (Wheeler), 14:02. Penalties—None.
Second Period—2, Winnipeg, Byfuglien 6 (Wheeler, Little), 2:35 (pp). 3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 22 (St. Louis, Salo), 6:20 (pp). 4, Winnipeg, Enstrom 3 (Ladd, Little), 9:35. Penalties—Johnson, TB (tripping), 2:24; Thorburn, Wpg (kneeing), 6:13; Labrie, TB (hooking), 7:10; Bogosian, Wpg, double minor (high-sticking), 9:13; St. Louis, TB (high-sticking), 9:21; Antropov, Wpg (slashing), 14:22.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Conacher 9 (Brewer), 5:01. Penalties—Wheeler, Wpg (goaltender interference), 3:22; Purcell, TB (hooking), 3:47. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 12-7-6—25. Winnipeg 8-9-7—24. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 5; Winnipeg 1 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Desjardins 0-3-0 (24 shots-21 saves). Winnipeg, Pavelec 14-14-2 (25-23). A—15,004 (15,004). Referees—Marc Joannette, Rob Martell. Linesmen—Vaughan Rody, Thor Nelson.