Lightning falls out of playoff spot with defeat

by Gary Shelton on February 17, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Bishop gave up three goals on breakdowns.

Bishop gave up three goals on breakdowns.

Wednesday, 6 a.m.

This is what a slump looks like up close.

Other teams are racing toward your net like they're on a buffalo stampede. You keep giving up breakaways, and eventually, they break you.

Your captain remains in a two-goals-in-12 games slump. Good thing that all those trade rumors are cleared from his head, right? Steven Stamkos' lost season continues.

Your only goals come from the unlikely sources of Ryan Callahan (who scored for the first time in 18 games and the second in 41)

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Callahan scored his second goal in 41 games.

Callahan scored his second goal in 41 games.

and from Cedric Paquette (who scored his first in 22 games and his second in 32). That's hardly the first two Lightning players you would wager would score, but against San Jose, it's all the team had.

You miss defenseman Jason Garrett, who suddenly looks as important to this team as Victor Hedman.

Goalie Ben Bishop gives up four goals, twice as many as usual, and three of them were on breakdowns.

Add it all up, and suddenly, the Tampa Bay Lightning is in a tailspin. The Bolts have now lost four out of five, and they've fallen to ninth in an eight-team playoff race, and they have only 11 home games left in their final 26. Their goal seems half the size of the opposition's. Things are looking grim.

“We're cheating the game a little bit right now,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “It's what we're doing. Things on the defensive side of the puck we've done for 2 ½ years, we're going through a stretch we're not doing those things. We're on the wrong side of pucks and we're trying to do too many things, thinking we should go and win a game 6-5. It's not how many you score, it's how many you keep out. We're not there right now.”

Paquette scored his second  goal in 32 games.

Paquette scored his second goal in 32 games.

The thing is, late February is a time that a lot of playoff berths are decided by a hot streak, the kind the Lightning was on only days ago. But suddenly, the best players aren't the team's best players. Stamkos has scuffed it up; he didn't have a shot against the Sharks.

“We've got to have more urgency, more compete,” said forward Ryan Callahan. “This isn't good enough.”

The thing is, this year's Lightning is not last year's. There have been too many dips in the road, too many third periods have slipped away. Garrison is a good player, but his loss means that Matt Carle is playing more, which has been a problem.

“There's a little bit of a trickle down (without Garrison),” Cooper said. “I guess it's a coincidence, or is he that much of an impact? You can weigh them both. I thought it would have an impact, but not like this.”

Stamkos, too, has his problems. During this subpar season, a lot of the fault has been blamed on his contract negotiations. But general manager Steve Yzerman removed any worries when he announced Tuesday that Stamkos will not be traded. Still, he was barely noticeable on the ice.

Callahan said his team has to be better defensively.

"It’s breakdowns for sure," he said. "We take two penalties late in the third. You know its tough, we kill those off and we end up giving up a couple 5-on-5 goals. So we have to tighten up defensively. I mean that’s another game that we give up four goals, and we have had our successes this year giving up just one or two goals. We have to be better defensively.”

The Lightning is home Thursday night against Winnipeg, then begins a long road trip.

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