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Lightning want to keep bringing the fight

Despite a loss in Boston, Tampa Bay regained the physicality the team knows it will need in the postseason.
 
The Bruins' Garnet Hathaway (21), Lightning's Pat Maroon, top right, Bruins' Jakub Lauko, center right, and Lightnings' Ross Colton, center left, fight during the first period Saturday in Boston.
The Bruins' Garnet Hathaway (21), Lightning's Pat Maroon, top right, Bruins' Jakub Lauko, center right, and Lightnings' Ross Colton, center left, fight during the first period Saturday in Boston. [ MICHAEL DWYER | AP ]
Published March 27, 2023

BRANDON — After losing three straight road games, and ahead of playing the league-leading Bruins, the Lightning held a team meeting. They were heading in the wrong direction, with a 7-2 defeat in Ottawa the previous day leaving them particularly sour.

This team isn’t the same one that won back-to-back Stanley Cups. More than half of the roster has changed since last lifting the Cup at Amalie Arena in 2021. Still, the team’s core knows what it takes to win in the playoffs.

And a group that has been meandering through the second half of the regular season needed a reminder.

On that practice day Friday in Boston, the Lightning’s team meeting included watching videos of some of their greatest hits from the recent Cup runs, highlights of the tight checking, shot blocking and physicality that were key ingredients in their championship recipe.

“It kind of got us going a little bit,” Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said Monday. “We obviously know what we’ve got to do. We have to bring that fire.”

Even though the Lightning’s regulation losing streak grew to four after the 2-1 loss in Boston, their play against the Bruins was different. And it wasn’t just because Ross Colton and Pat Maroon dropped their gloves seconds after the game started, though that certainly sent a message.

“It’s never fun when you’re not winning, but there’s some time to just figure out that identity that we need, what’s been successful in the past,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “I think we saw a little more of what it needs to be in terms of the Boston game. And listen, not everyone has to go out there and fight. We’ve got guys that are certainly willing to do that and are very good at that.

Bruins right wing Garnet Hathaway (21) is taken down by Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev during Saturday's game.
Bruins right wing Garnet Hathaway (21) is taken down by Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev during Saturday's game. [ STUART CAHILL | Boston Herald ]

“But it’s just the mindset of, are we willing to engage in battle and do the little things that we’ve done in the playoffs, whether that’s blocking shots, whether that’s being physical, whether that backchecking hard. Things come more naturally like that when there’s more on the line. And it’s tough to have that for an 82-game schedule, but I feel like ... that’s kind of been a little bit of a backdoor excuse for us this year and it just hasn’t been working.

“We have the guys that you know are gonna be on our roster come playoff time, and let’s go and let’s show that we deserve to be a team that can do some damage in the playoffs.”

Against the Bruins (57-11-5), 16 of 18 Lightning skaters had at least one hit (35 total for the team), and six players logged three or more. The Lightning also had 18 blocked shots.

“We didn’t have a great game in Ottawa. I think the team looked ourselves in the mirror and we were kind of embarrassed and we knew that’s not going to cut it come playoff time,” Lightning center Nick Paul said. “It was, ‘OK, we’re playing the Boston Bruins, we need to get our jam back, we’ve got nine games left going into the playoffs. It has to start now.’

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“Within the group, our leaders were taking charge, just getting us ready, saying, ‘Hey, it’s now or never. We can’t just be moping around and hoping for things to happen. We have to take charge ourselves..’

“I think that was a great example in Boston, a step in the right direction. It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but we battled for each other. We battled on the ice. And we just gotta keep bringing that passion.”

The team returned home for a day off Sunday and was back on the ice at the TGH IcePlex for a spirited practice before flying to Raleigh for Tuesday’s meeting against the Hurricanes, who also could be a road block to another Eastern Conference title.

Carolina (47-16-9) will be a fitting test for the Lightning (42-26-6) because of their physical, high-pressure style of play. They give very little room to operate with the puck and are a tight-checking team. The Lightning lost the most recent meeting, 6-0 on March 5 in Carolina.

“We’ve just got to grind our way through it and it’s not just dumping the puck and chipping it out, but really playing hard and making it hard on teams,” Sergachev said. “Some of the games we lost, it was too easy. We’re not hitting, we’re not playing hard. Now we know the recipe. We saw it last game.”

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