The Bolts have to overcome self-doubts

by Gary Shelton on March 7, 2023

in general

Point, team, must overcome doubts./Tim Wirt

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

In the bleachers, it doesn't matter. The Tampa Bay Lightning usually sells out its games, and as miserable as they have been for 10 games, that won't change as the season approaches its stretch run.

In the upcoming playoffs, it won't matter. The Lightning has the look of a team that is plummeting down the standings, but it really isn't. They remain in third place, destined to face the Toronto Maple Leafs. If they had been on a long winning streak, maybe they could have taken over second place, and been destined to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As far as their legacies, that won't matter, either. The Bolts who are brand names, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy, will remain brand names.

Still, it matters.

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Down deep, down where you can find that internal swagger that all professional athletes have, it matters. The way a player thinks of himself, carries himself. It is there, where an athlete must convince himself that he has a shot in the post-season, that it matters.

Hockey players talk about their confidence all the time. That's odd, because these guys are world-class athletes who a skate like the wind and endure opponents who are trying to leave them scarred. You would think they have plenty of confidence. But they don't. A bad spell can ruin one's self-image.

You can almost see that happening to the Bolts. They are slower, less creative. Their defensemen penetrate too deep, and because of it, they give up a staggering number of breakaways. They tend to overpass. They are so careless with the puck you would think they are coached by Jameis Winston.

Still, they have had this incredible mind-set, this will. They have owned the third period for years.

Now, that has vanished. And with 19 games left in the season, there isn't a lot of time to get it back.

Perhaps they don't. Certainly, the season doesn't have that feel to it.

But the Bolts have spent regular seasons looking less than stellar before. Last year, they finished third, 12 points behind the Florida Panthers...and made the Stanley Cup finals. The year before, they were third, five points behind Carolina...and won it. The year before, they were second ... and won it.

There were times in those seasons they were disappointing, too. There were times it felt that the league had caught up with them.

Again, this team has won because of its mental edge. It rarely played badly back-to-back. Its stars were simply better than anyone else's.

Their biggest challenge isn't the way they're playing. Sure, Stamkos, Kucherov and Point were benched the other night. Sure, Vasilevskiy looks like he’s at the wrong end of the shooting range.

If this team is going to turn it around, however, it has to start with its mentality. It has to restore its swagger. It has to take over in the third period again.

Can it do it? From here, it seems uphill. But the Lightning has accomplished too much to surrender now.

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