Tuesday, 4 a.m.
This is the kind of year it has been.
Finally, the Tampa Bay Lightning gets a great night from its goaltender. It gets some energy from a defenseman. It peppers the opposing goaltender.
And it loses.
This has been the kind of year it has been.
The Lightning stood toe-to-toe with the New York Rangers for most of Thursday night. It was 64 seconds away from a shootout. And its best
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player, Victor Hedman, makes a wild pass in the extra period, and the Bolts lose.
Yes, the Lightning played well. But what good is playing well when a professional team loses? How do you embrace a night that could have ended with two points instead of just one? How can you not feel that a point slipped away?
Oh, Lightning coach Jon Cooper tried. Really, he did. He wants whatever juice the Bolts can claim from this one. So he doesn't gripe and he doesn't whine. He speaks in positives.
Still, you have to wonder if this one dripped acid into the pit of his stomach.
“I’m really pleased," Cooper said. "In the end, they’ve got a really good hockey team. They’re good. We’ve been playing really well. It was one of those games that I thought both teams deserved a point.
"I thought we deserved the other one. But, I say that, and then I think back to the Carolina game and their coach probably was thinking the same thing in that game. Sometimes you get them. Sometimes you don’t. We did everything we could do to try to win that game. Tip your hat to both goaltenders. I know everybody’s screaming for more scoring in the league, but that was a pretty darn exciting 0-0 game.”
Well, yeah, it beat losing to Arizona. That's a given. Still, the scoreboard read 1-0 the wrong way.
"You’re talking a Monday night, and that building was rocking," Cooper said. "I think the Witkowski-Glass fight had a lot to do with it. I think that got it going, but there was chances (on) both ends. There was big saves. The game had it all. I liked our emotion.
"Were we perfect? No, but we did everything in our power to win. Give them a lot of credit: They’re a 40-plus win team and rightfully so. They hung in there. We tilted the ice at times during the game and their goalie made the saves for them. When they tilted the ice on us, Vasy was making saves. Fans got their money's worth tonight, except for the disappointment of not getting the last point. We needed that point a heck of a lot more than they did.”
And that's the thing. The Lightning has a lot of bodies to climb over before it can be considered good enough to make the playoffs.
Cooper, as is his way, did not focus on the wild pass by Victor Hedman that set up the winning goal for the Rangers.
“Victor had it," Cooper said. "He tried to make a pass and we didn’t get it. All of a sudden now, it’s a quick strike and that’s what overtime becomes. Overtime’s not about creating chances. It’s about capitalizing on mistakes. We made a mistake and they capitalized. That was it.”
Hedman accepted the responsibility for the pass.
“I obviously saw it wrong," Hedman said. "I thought Drouin w as over there. It was one of those plays you want back. I thought I made a play that was right, but I have to be better. It was a miss by me and I'll take responsibility. I've got to be better in that situation."
The play resulted in the Rangers only score on 33 shots, a breakaway goal by Mika Zibanejad. It was the first time the Bolts have been shut out since a 4-0 loss to Washington Dec. 23.
In years past, this was the kind of game the Lightning usually won. It would scrap away, and someone -- Ryan Callahan, maybe Steven Stamkos -- would chip in a puck and the team would win 3-2.
Not this year. This year, this kind of game goes wrong too often. It slips away.
“I think we took another step tonight," Anton Stralman said. "I think we upped our game. Maybe for five minutes in the third they had some momentum going, but otherwise I thought we played strong for 60 minutes. That’s what you need this time of year. It’s not the one game that’s going to decide it. It’s the team that can play the most consistent throughout this last stretch that’s going to make it.”
Do the Bolts still have a chance? With their point, they're momentarily two points out of the last playoff spot. That's close enough with 17 games left.
Last year's team would have pulled this out.
This year's team? At this point, in these days of sunshine and rainbows, no one knows.