TAMPA, Fla. (AP)The Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t forgotten what it takes to be a champion.
The slumping team hasn’t played well during a three-week stretch in which they’ve hardly resembled the dominant crew that won two of the past three Stanley Cup titles. Still, coaches and players say there’s no reason to believe they can’t pull out of a baffling tailspin and make another deep playoff run.
Lopsided road losses to Buffalo and Carolina last weekend extended the Lightning’s longest losing streak in nine years to five games. The club opened a four-game homestand Tuesday night against Philadelphia, looking to right themselves after dropping eight of 10 overall.
“A reset is going to be huge,” defenseman Ian Cole said earlier Tuesday. “We know we have a good hockey team. We know we can win hockey games. We just have to do it.”
Captain Steven Stamkos is optimistic.
“Sometimes when you go on a slide like this, it’s just believing in ourselves and being confident,” the 33-year-old Stamkos, who’s in his 15th season, said.
“Confidence is a fickle thing in the sports world. It comes, it goes. You try to ride it when you have it, and you try to get out of it as quick as possible (if you don’t have it). Sometimes it’s just one play,” Stamkos added. “That’s the thing we talked about. … Just go out there and control what you can control. Let’s rely on each other. When things aren’t going well, it sometimes gets in your head and you don’t feel like you can do anything right out there.”
The last time the Lightning lost as many as five in a row was in March 2014. They were outscored 11-3 in last weekend’s losses to the Sabres and Hurricanes.
Coach Jon Cooper, who grabbed the attention of his players by benching the top line of Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov during the third period of Saturday’s 5-3 defeat at Buffalo, said getting back on track will not be as simple as returning to home ice for the next few games.
“The results of games haven’t gone the way we wanted, but you can’t sit here and say: ’Well we’re at home, it’s going to rectify things. Really, players have got to bring their work ethic and their preparation, and we’ve got to set them up for success,” Cooper said.
Stamkos is confident the Lightning will regroup and play better.
“I think people forget we’re a different team than we’ve been the last several years. We’ve lost some good players. We’ve had some young guys come up. That’s what we talk about every year. It’s a different group, and you have to figure out the identity of that group,” Stamkos said.
”Just because we’ve had success in years past,” the captain continued, “doesn’t automatically translate to we’re going to the Stanley Cup Final again because we’ve been there three straight times.”
But with a veteran, playoff-tested, star-laden roster featuring dynamic scorers such as Stamkos, Point and Kucherov, one of the NHL’s best goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy, and injured top defenseman Victor Hedman, it is far too early to write off the Lightning.
“Our system hasn’t changed. We’ve played the same way, with the same tenacity and execution to put us in the position we are right now.
We’re just not executing right now, and it’s slowing us down,” Cooper noted after Sunday’s 6-0 loss to Carolina. “As coaches, we’ve got to instill some confidence in these guys, and we’ll be OK.”
Hedman, who appeared to suffer a lower back injury during the loss to the Hurricanes, was ruled out for Tuesday night’s game against the Flyers. He is listed as day to day.
“We’ve got to work collectively as a group to play better and to get results,” Stamkos said. “That’s what this league is about. It’s about wins and trying to put yourself in the best position come playoff time. So that’s what we’re looking for.”
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