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Lightning motivated to stop skid at 2

ST. PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 25: Marco Scandella #6 of the Minnesota Wild scores a goal against Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the game on October 25, 2014 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 25: Marco Scandella #6 of the Minnesota Wild scores a goal against Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the game on October 25, 2014 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Published Nov. 22, 2014

TAMPA — It's been nearly a month, but the Lightning hasn't forgotten the beating the Wild handed it the last time the teams met.

"They tossed us around," coach Jon Cooper said.

"They pumped us pretty good," defenseman Matt Carle said.

The Wild thumped Tampa Bay 7-2 on Oct. 25 in Minnesota. And considering Tampa Bay has lost back-to-back games in regulation for the first time this season, it enters tonight's rematch at Amalie Arena pretty ticked off.

"We should have a little bite in our game coming into that one," wing Ryan Callahan said. "They embarrassed us pretty good in their building. So coming off that and our last two performances, there should be enough fire in where we should be going (tonight)."

In fairness, though Tampa Bay got blown out in Minnesota, it was the last game of a five-game, 10-day road trip. And veteran backup goalie Evgeni Nabokov had a rough night, allowing four goals on his first eight shots before getting pulled.

But on that night, the Lightning was as loose as it has been defensively all season, and that type of play popped up in its past two losses, against the Islanders and Maple Leafs.

On Thursday, the Lightning, built on speed, got out of its identity, playing like it was "in quicksand," Cooper said.

It struggled with 10-foot passes and breakouts. It didn't get pucks in deep. It has been playing with fire, giving up odd-man rushes and taking too many penalties; Tampa Bay has allowed nine power plays the past two games, killing eight, including a five-on-three in each of the past three games.

Even defenseman Anton Stralman, arguably the team's best player so far, was minus-3 in the 5-2 loss to Toronto.

Tampa Bay wasn't the same team that put itself near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

"It's been a good run because we've been sticking to our structure," captain Steven Stamkos said.

"When you get away from that, we're an average team in this league. We don't want to be average; we want to be a playoff team. We want to be an above-average team, and above-average teams don't lose three in a row, so we've got some work to do next game."

The Lightning has done its best to survive without top defenseman Victor Hedman, going 10-5-1 in the five weeks he's been out with a fractured finger. "I don't want to do it much longer," Cooper said.

Hedman is at least a week away from returning, and it has been more clear recently how much Tampa Bay misses him. Carle, who has been thrust into playing more minutes and a top-pair role, was moved back to the second pairing in the second period Thursday, with Jason Garrison joining Stralman.

Replacing Hedman's 20-plus minutes, his presence and his all-around game has been difficult. But Cooper loves his team, saying it has typically "answered the bell," and believes it will tonight.

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"We've been really good at turning the page," Cooper said. "We're a really good team at responding after losses. If you're going to sit here and say after 21 games we're going to lose back-to-back games once, I'll take that all day. The big thing now is we can't make it three."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.