Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 12/9/11
Now comes the hard part, not that anything has come easy this season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Youd like to think that its emotional and dramatic 3-2 shootout victory Thursday night over the New York Rangers will become the cornerstone of a prolonged turnaround, following five consecutive losses. Youd like to think that Bolts will bond together amid adversity and find a way to fight through it -- as they did so admirably after losing team and scoring leader Marty St. Louis earlier in the day to a fluke practice accident. But the road ahead does not appear any friendlier, especially with four of their next six games taking place away from the relative comfort of home, starting Saturday against the powerhouse, 17-7 Philadelphia Flyers. Going forward indefinitely without their veteran play-making star, who had scored four goals in his previous six games and nine in 27 games, only makes the task that much more formidable. But its the challenge the 12-14-2 Lightning now face. And the team has to find a way to rise to it, or risk letting the season slip perilously out of reach. But for now, give the players credit. Perhaps what they accomplished in the Big Apple will serve as a rallying cry to battle through daunting stretch. Indeed, if ever there was a game in which they could have crumbled, this was the one. They headed into Madison Square Garden eager to snap their recent skid, only to watch things go from bad to worse during a morning drill in the blink of eye. Thats when forward Dominic Moore took a back-handed shot that missed the net and hit St. Louis beneath one eye, leaving him with facial and nasal fractures and ultimately ending his consecutive games streak one shy of 500. Against that backdrop, you could hardly have scripted a more unlikely turn of events. It was Moores short-handed, backhand goal -- from nearly the same spot his errant shot had struck St. Louis -- that tied the score 2-2 with 1:57 remaining in regulation. And in overtime, Moore scored the only goal in a shootout to lift the Lightning to victory and possibly serve as the lift they so desperately need now. The Bolts can take heart in the fact that they knocked off a powerful Rangers team that sits in the third place in the Eastern Conferences Atlantic Division with a record of 15-6-4. And they perhaps draw further motivation from a spontaneous show of unity -- born out of anger and no doubt frustration -- that turned everything around just as the game began to slip away. That pivotal moment occurred when New Yorks Artem Anisomov scored his own short-handed goal to put the Rangers ahead 2-1 in the second period. Anisomov then made a mistake he instantly regretted, showboating unwisely by pointing his hockey stick like a gun at Tampa Bay goalkeeper Mathieu Garon. That idiotic move unleashed all a wave of pent-up Lightning emotion, with team captain Vinny Lecavalier immediately going after Anisomov, followed by teammates Marc-Andre Bergeron and Steve Downie. Every player on the ice quickly jumped into the fracas, and when it was finally sorted out, five players received penalties totaling 36 minutes -- including a 14 against Anisomov (four for rough, 10 for misconduct). We were offended and its disrespectful, Lecavalier said. It's not like he was happy to score a goal and did some type of pump (with his fist); it was directly at our net and our goalie." The Lightning failed to capitalize on the power play that resulted. But the incident clearly fired the team up, as it kept the heat on the Rangers, culminating with Moores heroics. He insisted that he wasnt out to make up for the inadvertent injury he caused St. Louis, but added that the 36-year-old veteran was on the minds of all the Lightning players Thursday night. "Everybody is thinking about Marty and trying to get the win for him, Moore told reporters. He's our leader every second of every day. That was our thought." Head coach Guy Bouchers thoughts, meanwhile, were of pride in how his team reacted under highly difficult circumstances. Since the beginning of the year, its been heartache after heartache, he said in his post-game press conference. Were being kicked and hacked and everything you can imagine since the beginning. And obviously lately, weve played some great games and it just hasnt turned our way. At some point, youve got to deserve something. Its got to come back, but it only comes back with perseverance. We always tell our players, winning is not a habit, its habits. And the most important habit is perseverance. Thats what the players did today. With Marty St. Louis getting injured, Im sure we could have folded. But I think you saw the kind of character that weve got. And actually a guy like Dominic Moore, who was the one who injured Marty...it just shows you the kind of character this man has. Moore and other players will have to step up now with St. Louis out indefinitely, with injuries currently sidelining key contributors Pavel Kubina and Nate Thompson -- (forward Blair Jones was called up by GM Steve Yzerman to help pick up the slack). The Pittsburgh Penguins remained one of the NHLs top teams last year without the services of star center Sidney Crosby, who missed much of the season with a concussion. The Lightning, however, was having a hard time winning consistently even with St. Louis in the lineup. And without him, it will be harder than ever, no matter how inspiring the teams effort was on Thursday night.
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