Lightning benches stars in latest loss

by Gary Shelton on March 5, 2023

in general

Cooper had company on the bench./TIM WIRT

Sunday, 4 a.m.

After a coach has seen all he can stand, players start to sit.

And so it was that the Tampa Bay Lightning displayed one of their most jarring images of recent seasons in the third period of their latest disappointment Saturday afternoon.

There, in front of Cooper, stood the cornerstones of the Lightning team. For an entire period, Cooper benched Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov in a 5-3 loss.

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Killorn scored a goal./TIM WIRT

It was a clear message to the rest of the team that the Lightning could not abide their recent slide. Together, those three have 89 goals and 225 points on the season. That the Lightning would like its odds better without them was a loud statement.

“As coaches, you’ve got to put your team in the best position to win," Cooper said. "Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, those guys give us the best chance to win when they're on the ice. I just felt in the third period they weren’t giving us the best chance to win.

"This team's been unbelievable for a while. We have a set of standards that everyone adheres to. Those guys are an important part of our team, but for 20 minutes tonight, I thought the other guys could get it done. They almost did."

Point scored the Bolts' first goal, with assists from Kucherov and Stamkos. But it didn't last. The trio were a combined minus six on the day.

"You’ve got to come here and go to work," Cooper said. "If you’re not on it to the standards this franchise has set , you won't go out there."

The Bolts have been among the worst teams in the NHL lately. They've won just two of their last nine games, and they've given up 34 goals during that span.

It was the fifth straight game the Bolts have given up 30 shots or more.

The question now, of course, is how the Bolts respond. If Stamkos, Kucherov and Point repeat Cooper's message, this could help pull them out of the slump. Otherwise, if players pout, it could backfire.

The next clue will be today, when the Bolts travel to Carolina to play the Hurricanes at 3:30 p.m.

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