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Lightning not panicking but need to find ‘killer instinct’

They believe they’re playing well but their lapses have been costly.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) look on as the Minnesota Wild celebrate their goal scored by right wing Mats Zuccarello (36) to go up 5 to 4 during third period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in Tampa. The Wild scored the goal just 8 seconds after Lightning Alex Killorn (17) scored a goal to tie the score 4-4. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) look on as the Minnesota Wild celebrate their goal scored by right wing Mats Zuccarello (36) to go up 5 to 4 during third period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in Tampa. The Wild scored the goal just 8 seconds after Lightning Alex Killorn (17) scored a goal to tie the score 4-4. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 6, 2019

TAMPA — There’s no panic in the Lightning dressing room. What there is, however, is a sincere acknowledgement of the need to do better.

The Lightning know they let a winnable game slip away against the Wild on Thursday. They believe they’ve been playing well but their lapses have been costly.

“We’ve given ourselves a chance to win a lot of these games,” Alex Killorn said. “It’s about finding that killer instinct. Winning teams find a way to win games, and we haven’t done that recently.”

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Jon Cooper uses the word 'unacceptable' twice to describe the loss to Minnesota

Victor Hedman said they don’t let the word “frustration” into their dressing room.

The emotion is harder to keep out than the word, though, particularly when good efforts have been incomplete and end in a loss. The Lightning is combating that by focusing on the assessment of their play rather than the result.

The problem with that is sports is a results-based business. But the Lightning believe their focus on process will get them where they want to be.

“If you keep playing well and doing the right things,” Killorn said, “you might lose a game you deserved to win and win a game you deserved to lose, but in the long run, you’ll win more than you lose.”

Coach Jon Cooper would rather have a strong effort for 50 minutes with a lapse than sneak out a win in 10 minutes after 50 of poor play. But — and this is a big but — the Lightning need to fix those 10-minute lapses in the former.

Few teams can honestly say they play well for the full 60 minutes every game, Cooper said. But not every team’s short stretches of unfocused play burn them the way the Lightning’s has this season. That’s what this team needs to manage.

“We’ve found ways to lose some games here that we don’t think, when you look at the game as a whole, we should have lost,” Cooper said. “But we did.”

The Lightning believe that fix needs to start at the beginning of games.

Though Erik Cernak scored less than two minutes into Thursday’s game to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead, they didn’t have the start they wanted. That goal was almost more of an anomaly than an example of strong play from the start.

“We’re starting the wrong way in a few games,” Yanni Gourde said. “In our (defensive) zone, there are little things that we can get better at. They’re small details, but those details are costing us the game.”

Three challenges

Last season, when everything seemed to go so smoothly for the Lightning, three opponents were bumps in the road. St. Louis, Nashville and Minnesota were the only teams to beat Tampa Bay twice.

Those teams just came up in quick succession this year, and they were still no cupcakes.

The Blues have already beaten the Lightning twice this year, both times last month. The first game was a poor showing in St. Louis by Tampa Bay, and the second was a good-not-great game last week at Amalie Arena.

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: 90's Night might have been the best thing about Thursday game

The Lightning split this season’s series with the Predators, losing in overtime in October and winning Tuesday in overtime in a well-played game.

The Wild have a chance at a sweep after Thursday’s win. The teams play next in January.

These three teams aren’t especially similar in how they play that they tripped up the Lightning.

Swimming with the Sharks

San Jose is in town for their first game against the Lightning, Saturday night at Amalie Arena. Here’s what you should know about the Sharks:

• They are similarly not off to a great start. After finishing second in the Pacific Division last year and advancing to the second round of the playoffs, San Jose is currently fifth in the division and out of playoff standing.

• The Sharks have one of the league’s worst goal differentials. San Jose is minus-13, 26th in the league entering Friday. The Lightning was 11th at plus-9.

• Logan Couture leads the Sharks with 29 points and has 12 points in 13 career games against the Lightning. Evander Kane leads San Jose 13 goals and has scored nine in 30 games against Tampa Bay.

• Patrick Marleau’s iron-man streak is at 814 consecutive-games played. (The league ruled that the few games he missed to start this season because he was not under contract with a team don’t count as missed for the purpose of his streak.) Brent Burns’ streak is at 501 games.

• Joe Thornton punched Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek in the throat during their game Thursday after Mrazek wacked Thornton for trying to dig out a covered puck.

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