If hockey were a 40-minute game, the Tampa Bay Lightning would be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately for Tampa it is a 60-minute game and sometimes beyond.
Following last night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators, one has to wonder if the Bolts are ready to make a difference in the playoffs.
The Lightning have now lost to the last place team (Ottawa) in the Eastern conference twice in a span of eight days.
The loss concluded Tampa’s four game road trip in which they went 1-0-3. Although Tampa managed to earn five of a possible eight points on the road trip, they have not played well.
The Lightning are not finishing games and this is not a recent problem for head coach Guy Boucher’s squad. The Lightning have been a top five team in both the first and second period scoring goals this season. With 148 goals, they are plus 17 through 40 minutes of play this season.
Maybe Boucher, who holds a Masters Degree in Sports Psychology and has been known to try unorthodox methods in order to shake things up, should consider keeping his team on the bench once the horn blows following the second period of play. The Lightning are a completely different hockey team this season once the final frame begins.
Ranked 25th in the NHL with just 52-third-period-tallies this season, the Lightning are a minus- 26 during the final 20 minutes of play. Last night was no exception as the Bolts squandered a two-goal advantage, losing in overtime.
Captain Vinny Lecavalier put the Bolts up 1-0 in the first period and Dana Tyrell added what looked to be merely an insurance goal in the second.
They say looks can be deceiving, Tyrell’s goal certainly was, as the Lightning looked in control of this game.
Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson appeared headed for his fifth shutout in 27 games but the Senators scored twice in the final seven and a half minutes to force overtime.
Roloson faced just 12 shots from Ottawa in the first two periods but saw 18 in the finals stanza alone. Making some great saves in close, the 41-year-old net minder was equal to the task on many of those shots.
Roloson kept his team ahead for as long as he could until the Sens Ryan Shannon beat him on a breakaway, scoring a short-handed goal with 7:33 remaining in the game. Shannon converted a perfect outlet pass from Erik Condra as he caught Bolts Victor Hedman flat footed at the blue line.
Hedman was not the only Bolt caught playing poorly last evening as he, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were a minus-2 for the game.
The Lightning have surrendered 13 shorthanded goals this season, tops in the NHL.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher had plenty to say about Ottawa’s shorthanded marker.“The only thing I said on that power play was we can’t get caught and that’s exactly what happened. It’s very frustrating when you keep one defenseman up there and you get caught”.
Boucher finished by saying, “You want to blame yourself as a coach but when we tell the players that what we want to watch out for is them taking off and our guy’s not even aware of it ,when you make a play like that you don’t deserve to win.”
Through his own soft play, Hedman would again be victimized in the extra session. Instead of simply throwing the puck deep in the corner, with puck possession inside the Sens zone, Hedman threw an ill-advised pass across the blue line to fellow defenseman Pavel Kubina
The Sens Jason Spezza was able to slightly disrupt Hedman’s pass causing the puck to skip past Kubina and off the sideboards back to Spezza, who tapped the puck ahead to line mate Erik Karlsson. Karlsson was able to blow past Hedman as Spezza joined him, beating Kubina and Teddy Purcell down the left wing for a 2-on-1 break.
Karlsson fed the puck back to Spezza who failed to control the pass but unmolested in front of Roloson, was able to direct the puck into the net, giving Ottawa their fifth win in seven games. The loss for the Lightning was their eighth in their last ten games.
The loss was also the fifth time this season the Bolts have not won a game when leading after two periods.
The Bolts are 7-7-6 over their last 20 games and after once leading the Southeast division by seven points, now trail the Capitals by five points with just one game in hand.
Many of Tampa’s third period woes can be traced to their lack of physical play in the final stanza. The Lightning implores a lot of stick checking instead of using the body to slow down opposing forwards. The final six weeks of any NHL regular season is always the most physical part of the year.
Tampa defenders also fail to consistently clear the front of the net for Roloson. The opposition can be seen regularly standing, sometimes two deep, waiting for a deflection or a rebound. Only body-on-body hockey can correct this problem.
This may also explain why the Lightning has suddenly stopped scoring as well. Other teams seem to be getting more physical with Tampa and it has slowed them dramatically. In 11 of their last 13 losses, the Lightning has failed to score more than two goals in the game.
As the Lightning have found out twice in the last eight days, even teams not headed for the post-season play a more physical brand of hockey.
If the Lightning are to have success in this year’s post-season, they need to start winning the third period. The only way to do that is play a more physical style, this forces teams into mistakes opening up scoring chances. The Bolts must also get more physical because getting pushed around in the third period of a game two-three or four in the playoffs spells certain defeat.
It certainly is not going to get any easier from this point forward and team Captain Vincent Lecavalier knows that and summed the situation up best when he said, “Once the playoffs come, those third periods are important,” Lecavalier said. “They’re all 2-1, 1-0 games, so we have to get better at them.”