The Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Saturday night.
Following Thursday's abysmal effort against the Calgary Flames, a 4-1 loss, everybody on the Lightning has been saying all the right things about learning from mistakes, playing complete games, not taking things for granted, needing to start games strong, needing to finish the season strong, wanting to secure home-ice advantage in the first round and a myriad of platitudes that should have instilled some confidence in the beloved home team's faithful fans. And then, they hit the ice Saturday night and delivered... this.
"Regardless if it's game one or game 77, we have to just continue to teach and get better and hope to pull a little bit more urgency level out of these guys. As a coaching staff, we apparently have to find a better way to get them focused on playing a little bonus hockey. Are we going to hang our hat on making the playoffs? Because if that's the case, we aren't going to last very long." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper
"We didn't start the game on time. You start down 3-0 it's pretty tough to win in this league." - Lightning forward Steven Stamkos
The quotes aren't the only thing that seem so familiar that they might have been crafted from some sort of template. The Lightning once again relied on lazy, sloppy, stupid turnovers to dig themselves an early and deep hole.
Tonight it was Teddy Purcell putting the puck on an opponent's stick right in front of goalie Ben Bishop, allowing Jamie Benn to give the Stars the lead a whopping :40 into the game. Alex Goligoski and Tyler Seguin were credited with assists.
The lead drew out to 3-0 at 18:26 with Seguin scoring what would be the eventual game winner on assists from Jordie Benn and Jamie Benn.
Something happened in the second period to wake the Lightning up. Perhaps it was watching Tyler Johnson who actually played from start to finish like he had come to the Forum with a purpose.
The Lightning made things interesting, by exerting themselves and controlling play, including an extremely effective penalty kill that suffocated a four-minute double minor assessed to Ryan Malone for high sticking. The hard work paid off and they chopped the lead to one at 6:44 when recently-recalled from Syracuse defenseman Andrej Sustr scored his first NHL goal. He got help from Malone and Nate Thompson on the play.
The period ended with the Lightning trailing 3-2.
The third period saw the Bolts revert to the template that got them in trouble in the first period.
"The second period was great. We dominated them and got ourselves right back in the game.and then I make that costly mistake and it sucks the life out of us. - Stamkos
Fiddler scored the early goal, unassisted, at 1:26, thanks to a sloppy pass from Stamkos near the Lightning net.
Insurance for the Stars came at the 7:57 mark with Antoine Roussel, who had been felled in the first period by an awkward collision with Radko Gudas (who received a match penalty on the play), scoring on assists from Garbutt and Cody Eakin.
With the loss, the Lightning's bid for home ice is rapidly approaching the intersection of "improbable" and "unlikely". They trail Montreal by four points, plus tiebreakers, with only four games remaining. Although, that may not be their biggest worry as the schedule winds down...
"Hopefully, we can get this out of our system now instead of a week from now. Hopefully this is out of the system and we can come down from our high chair after making the playoffs and realize that there are other teams coming and can still catch us. We'll learn from this." - Stamkos
The Lightning will be back in action on Tuesday when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
- The Lightning have a pretty sorry home record against the Stars (3-11-1 plus a pair of ties) and that includes the two games prior to tonight..
- Barring the granting of official "throwback" status, tonight was the last regular season appearance of the Lightning's alternate "Bolts" sweaters.
- This was the last regular season game against a Western Conference opponent this season. In another scheduling quirk, Tuesday's game against Toronto will be their last versus an Atlantic Division opponent.
- The Lightning unveiled a bronze statue of former captain and Stanley Cup Champion Dave Andreychuk on Ford Thunder Alley in front of the Tampa Bay Times Forum today prior to the game. "This is a proud day for me and my family," Andreychuk said. "The Stanley Cup Championship was the ultimate goal for me and to be immortalized outside the Times Forum is an absolute honor. I hope the statue serves as a testament to that 2004 team and all the great fans that supported us during that championship run. I would like to thank Mr. Vinik and the Lightning organization for making this possible." "The image of captain Dave Andreychuk hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head at center ice is one of the most iconic memories in Lightning history," Lightning chairman and governor Jeff Vinik said. "We are excited to share this moment with every fan that attends a Lightning home game by honoring Dave with this statue." The life-size bronze statue of Andreychuk will be located at the entrance to Ford Thunder Alley, just northeast of the intersection at Channelside Drive and Morgan Streets. The statue depicts Andreychuk hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head after the Lightning defeated the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. The Andreychuk statue stands 9-feet tall and weighs approximately 600 pounds. It was created by Steven Dickey, the renowned artist and sculptor that designed the Phil Esposito statue which graces the entrance to the Times Forum. Andreychuk skated in 278 games with the Lightning over the final four seasons of his NHL career, amassing 68 goals and 129 points. He captained the Lightning to the franchise's first and only Stanley Cup Championship during the 2003-04 season. Andreychuk skated in 1,639 career NHL games, posting 640 goals and 1,338 points and he remains the NHL's record holder for most power-play goals with 274. The Lightning's vice president of corporate and community affairs, Andreychuk works directly on ticket sales campaigns to retain current season ticket holders and assist in cultivating new accounts for the Lightning. He participates in senior staff meetings and plays a large role in the team's youth hockey outreach and Lightning University programs. Andreychuk also serves as a lead analyst on the Emmy Award winning Sun Sports broadcast crew for Lightning games.
- The Lightning honored Mary Birrell as the 38th Lightning Community Hero of the year during the first period of tonight's game. Birrell, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay (HSTB). Birrell has dedicated the last 15 years of her life to making the Tampa area a better place for animals, both domestic and wild, and their owners. She has saved thousands of animals lives through her work with the Animal Health Center, the HSTB Board of Directors, and Animeals which is a "Meals on Wheel" for pets of homebound residents. Birrell scarificed many hours of her paying job in order to be the project manager for the construction of the Animal Health Center, a vital piece of the future for Tampa area animals. Birrell is a gold shirt volunteer at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, meaning she has volunteered more than 500 hours throughout her time with the organization. HSTB dedicated the largest exam room at the Animal Health Center to Mary with a plaque.