Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 10/21/11
TAMPA -- All it took was doing some of the little things for a change -- cutting back on stick penalties, doing a better job of controlling gaps on defense, and above all playing with heightened discipline. The result was a big step forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning. After five straight losses -- the first such losing streak under second-year head coach Guy Boucher -- the Bolts finally looked like the team that nearly made its way into the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Playing with intensity and focus from start to finish, they dispatched the New York Islanders 4-1 just one week after getting overwhelmed by them 5-1 on the road. It was precisely what Tampa Bay needed to boost its sagging morale after starting the season 1-3-2 -- including an embarrassing 7-4 loss Monday night to the Florida Panthers at the grand re-opening of the St. Pete Times Forum with its dazzling 40-million facelift. This time, the Lightning got it right. The team outshot the Islanders 30-17 and improved to 2-3-2 before an elated crowd of 18,181. And for the record, its first home win of the season came 15 years to the day of its first victory at the then-named Ice Palace in 1996, against another team from New York, the Rangers. "It was 100 percent better," said star center Steven Stamkos, whose goal at the 5:25 mark of the third period put his team up 3-0. "Our gap with our defense in the neutral zone was 100 percent better. We controlled the puck at their end the majority of the night. We weren't just one and done like we've been the last couple of games. We were cycling the puck. We were getting our shots through. .. It was a solid effort and it's fun when we win." Stamkos looked at it as a "statement game." But Boucher offered a different label. "I call it a standard game, but because it's a normal game, but because it's up to our standards," he said. "Below 20 shots (allowed) and above 30 shots (taken). And suffocating the opponent. That's our standard right there." Ryan Malone gave the Bolts a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal with 3:28 remaining in the first period and they never looked back. They set the aggressive tone, outshooting the speedy Islanders 14-6 in that opening period. Vinny Lecavalier made it 2-0 off an assist from Martin St. Louis with 4:46 left in the second period, which ended with the Lighting holding a 23-10 edge in shots. After Stamkos' score, the Islanders tried to get back in the game with a goal by Michael Grabner 7:55 into the third period, but Tampa Bay never lost its grip on this one and put it away with Brett Clark's score with 1:01 left to play. The Lightning's defense was outstanding -- in addition to notching its sixth goal of the season by a defensemen courtesy of Clark. And goalkeeper Mathieu Garon nearly notched a shutout in getting his first victory in the net for Tampa Bay. Boucher said his team had structure in its previous games but the difference this time was sustaining it. "We were losing it in moments and it was killing us," he said. "We were spending the whole game in the penalty box. I'm not like, everything is great and rosy tonight and the other games it wasn't. That's not true. That would be lie. We did well tonight because we focused on the fact that there were a lot of positives in the past games -- regardless of the scores, whether we won or lost. "We just needed to put it all together. And that's discipline. It's total focus. That's what we were lacking in the last games." Boucher stressed keeping it simple in practice, working on fixing a few issues rather than trying to make sweeping changes to get on track. "People think you have to change all kinds of things when things don't go well," he said. "It's the opposite. My whole player career and coach career tells me that when you want to see through the cloud, you're going to have to break it down into small pieces of things you need to work on and focus on one or two. That's it. If you focus on everything, you get lost in the process." Improving the gap on defense was a major priority, sapping the Islanders of their usual speed in the neutral zone. "It made a big difference," Boucher said. Lecavalier attributed the team's success to another factor beyond tight defense and discipline. "We had a pack mentality -- that's really what we did tonight," he said. "Everybody was there as five and we didn't give them a lot of chances." Boucher had no argument with that assessment. "Definitely, I knew it in the first two or three minutes of the game," he said. "Once every line has gone, I know exactly where we are. It was our strength last year. On paper, nobody gave us a chance as a team. But as a pack, that's where we're strong. It's not about one individual or a defenseman dealing with guy one-on-one. When we play like that, we're not very good. That's why we want to make sure that the pack mentality stays everywhere on the ice." They'll try to keep the pack attack going when they host the Buffalo Sabers, leading the Northeast Division at 5-1, Saturday at 7 p.m. At least for the moment, they can breath a little easier having snapped out a slide that was starting to get out of hand.
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