Lightning thinks it has answer to late-season funk

The antidote for what ails the Lightning as it tries to fight off the Bruins is nothing more than hard work.
There were a lot of hanging heads as the Lightning skated off the ice Monday after its second straight loss. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
There were a lot of hanging heads as the Lightning skated off the ice Monday after its second straight loss. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published March 27, 2018

TAMPA — Ryan Callahan was addressing the Lightning's current funk that has produced two goals over the past seven periods and losses in three of six games when he paused.

"It's funny," Callahan said. "We're talking about turning it around. We're first place in the division fighting for first place in the league.

"It just shows you the expectations we hold for ourselves and what the outside holds for us, the team we have and the start to the season we had."

The late-season slump could be ignored if not for the fact the Bruins have nearly pulled even in the race for first place in the division and conference. The teams meet Thursday in Boston, and the Lightning (51-21-4) will leave town in second place with a loss because the Bruins (47-17-10), who will match them in points, have played one fewer game.

The word inside the Lightning dressing room Tuesday, one day after a 4-1 loss to the lowly Coyotes, was there is nothing wrong with the Lightning that cannot be cured with hard work.

"You can't give up when it's going bad," Brayden Point said. "If you work through it when it's going bad, eventually we'll find it."

Find what, exactly?

Backup goalie Louis Domingue said after Monday's loss that the Lightning has lost some of the swagger that allowed it to lead the NHL in points for much of the season.

"Yeah, maybe," Point said. "It's a stretch where it's not going so good. It's bound to happen at one point. You can't play 82 perfect games. I think we're not in the same groove that we were, but we've got time to get it back."

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Coach Jon Cooper alluded Tuesday to a lull after his team clinched a playoff spot last week. He also mentioned the unusual schedule that was loaded with road games until this month, which included a season-long eight-game homestand.

"I think we were looking forward to being home for a long time," Cooper said. "Maybe the sigh came when we were at home."

Cooper said his team has run into goalies who played well and teams that checked a little tighter than earlier in the season.

As for the offense, Cooper said, "The one thing that's stifled us a little bit is we've been a little too one-and-done. We're not getting that rebound or that shot off a scramble that fuels our offense. It's more puck goes in the (goalie's) glove, they freeze. We lose a draw, the puck is out of the zone and we have to start over again. We have to start extending those O-zone shifts, and that will help with our scoring."

How does the Lightning do that?

Staying with the plan that elevated it to the top of the standings, Point said.

"I think because we had a good year and now we're in a funk and people think something is really wrong," Point said. "If we keep working we'll get out of it."

"All that matters is the confidence in here," Callahan said, "and we have that in here."

Slap Shots

C Steven Stamkos (lower body) did not practice Tuesday after missing Monday's game. Cooper said he expects Stamkos to play Thursday in Boston. … LW Adam Erne, who left Monday's game in the first period with a lower body injury, was being evaluated Tuesday. Cooper did not have an update on his status. … D Victor Hedman and G Andrei Vasilevskiy did not practice Tuesday for body maintenance, Cooper said. … Callahan (upper body) participated in Tuesday's practice. He said he expects to return before he playoffs. "What was feared to be the end of the regular season for him now is probably not the case," Cooper said. "He'll get some games in here before the playoffs."

Contact Roger Mooney at Follow @rogermooney50