Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 11/23/11
Thanksgiving may be in the air, but home has hardly been a place of warmth and cheer these days for the Tampa Bay Lightning not after its turkey of a game Tuesday night or the way it got stuffed three days earlier. Somehow, playing at the St. Pete Times Forum has become as troublesome for the Bolts as going on the road. They had hoped to get a little momentum back on this recently completed three-game home stand, following consecutive losses of 3-0 at St. Louis and 5-2 at Winnipeg. But after what began on an upbeat note last Thursday a 4-1 thumping of the potent Pittsburgh Penguins Tampa Bay lost its pre-holiday spirit in hurry with a 4-2 setback Saturday against the visiting New Jersey Devils and the humbling 7-1 rout Tuesday by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Until now, the teams stumbles and inconsistencies were largely limited to other arenas, not the raucous building in which they had built a 6-1 record and knocked off three of the NHLs top-tier teams in quick succession: Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Make that 6-3 at home now, with this sudden concern: If theyre having a hard time of it before their own fans, how will they respond playing away from the supportive, familiar atmosphere in three of the next four games? This next segment of games has suddenly taken on a sense of urgency. It starts Friday with a trip to South Florida against the Southeast Division-leading Panthers (11-6-3), followed by a home game against the Panthers Saturday. Then come two tough road opponents: Minnesota (atop the Northwest Division at 12-5-3) on Monday and Detroit (third in the Central at 11-7-1) next Wednesday. How they perform could set the tone in what has been a herky-jerky season to date for a team that set the bar so high last year in head coach Guy Bouchers first season at the helm, coming within a game of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. Its still a long season, and the Lighting demonstrated last year that a slow start can be overcome and produce head-turning results. To get things moving in the right direction on a more regular basis, Boucher has changed line combinations, overseen grueling practices following poor efforts, and granted extra days off to alleviate the grind. Players But so far, Tampa Bay hasnt been able to find the answers. The Bolts actually seemed to have hit on some early Tuesday evening after an inauspicious start. The Maple Leafs, leading the Eastern Conferences Atlantic Division, took an early 1-0 lead when Clark MacArthur scored 41 seconds into the game the 13th time in 20 games Tampa Bay has allowed the opening goal. But center Vinny Lecavalier turned a Lightning power play into a game-tying score 8:38 into the first period a hopeful sign considering it was the first goal in 10 previous power-play opportunities for Tampa Bay. The team was aggressive and energized, outshooting Toronto 13-8 in that period. Unfortunately, the Bolts began to unravel during an 87-second span thanks to a pair of penalties that led to Maple Leaf goals: a high-sticking call against defenseman Victor Hedman and then an interference penalty against Pavel Kubina, giving Toronto a 5-on-3 that it capitalized on with 37.1 seconds still remaining on Hedmans penalty. Just like that, the Leafs were in charge 3-1 an abrupt and demoralizing turn of events for Tampa Bay given how well it had been playing. We played terrific the first period. I cant ask more from my team, Boucher said. They came out flying. We executed. We had the jump, first on puck. We were shooting and they were doing great. We had a stupid penalty that put us against 5-on-3, and I strongly feel after the first period the players felt it was unfair to be trailing after such a good period, but I also think they were disappointed in themselves to kind of sabotage the way they were playing. From the second period on, the Lightning looked lost. Its forwards didnt generate any real pressure to close the gap (getting outshot 18-15 in the final two periods). Defensive lapses allowed Toronto to pile it on, and veteran goalkeeper Dwayne Roloson so strong against the Penguins last week wound up getting pulled after giving up six goals on only 21 shots. We came out in the first period and I thought we had a really good period, Lecavalier said. We were making a lot of good plays, but obviously our penalties put us in a really bad spot. We got away from it in the second period. We gave them opportunities to score and they took advantage of it. The Lightning captain suggested the problem lies in losing focus when things go wrong. It seems when were down, sometimes we break our structure a bit and when you come out of that, you give the other team an opportunity, he said. The score 3-1 wasnt bad at all after the first. We felt good about what we did in the first, I think we had 13 shots. Second period we didnt come out as good in the first; we only got four shots on net and thats what happens. Boucher concurred: If you look at the number of entrances that we had (in the second period), we had just as many in the first, but we stopped shooting all of a sudden. To me, there is no reason to try to change our game when its 3-1 for the opponent when they scored two power-play goals, one 5-on-3. Your 5-on-5 game has to stick, and our power play was terrific, except for the last one in the third period. The score was not how we wanted it. We started running around and making it worse for ourselves and created opportunities to get more bad habits. We have to correct that. Its a 60-minute game and even if we play at our best with everything weve got, the other team might win because theyre good and thats why they are where they are right now. Theyre playing great. Theyre confident. The Bolts have been there, too, this season especially at home, reeling off six straight wins before the two straight losses. How do they get back? Were not pointing any fingers, said center Nate Thompson. Obviously, were going through a tough time right now. Well battle through it I dont have a whole lot of ingredients for you, except we have to play the whole 60 minutes. They have to look at full season that way, too, even though its not going the way they want right now. We have a great opportunity our next two games playing in our division, a team (Florida) thats above us and we have a great opportunity to get back at it, Lecavalier said. Were just not as consistent as we want to be. To be a playoff team, youve got to be consistent and thats something we got to be better at. The last thing they want is follow Thanksgiving break with a Black Friday.
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