The Tampa Bay Lightning watched as their competitors for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference pulled further away. The Bolts lost for the fifth consecutive game, getting no points despite a gallant effort in Washington against what some believe to be the best team in hockey, the Capitals.
The Lightning fell behind twice by two goals, but fought back to tie the game at four before Capitals newcomer Scott Walker scored his second of the night to break the tie.
It's a frustrating time for Tampa Bay, which made no moves at the trade deadline to strengthen their hockey team.
Five straight losses, and in each giving up five or more goals, has left the team looking for answers as to how to keep the puck out of the back of their net. The streak of five or more goals allowed is a franchise record.
"You've got to block a shot or dive to get the puck out of your own end." Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet told reporters. "Bite the puck to get it out of your own end. We need those types of players. There are five or six guys that are costing us right now."
One player who isn't costing Tampa Bay, at least in the last two games, is a rejuvenated Vincent Lecavalier. Lecavalier has been a sparkplug for the team since coming back from the Olympic break, showing the grit and strength which we haven't seen from him in some time.
Lecavalier scored twice against the Capitals, and looked dominant against one of the best teams in the game.
Steven Stamkos continued his assault on the goal light as well, netting his 38th of the season to stay in shouting distance of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the league leaders with 42.
Teddy Purcell, who came to Tampa Bay in the salary dump of Jeff Halpern, actually figured in an assist on one of Vinny's goals, getting a point in his first outing with the hockey club.
Still, the Lightning's defense continues to be the teams' Achilles' heel. Tampa Bay has given up 27 goals during the five game losing streak, and it doesn't seem to matter who's in goal. Mike Smith was the culprit last night, but Antero Niittymaki has certainly cooled off in his play as well.
"We're not getting good goaltending right now," Smith told reporters.
It's not their fault though, as Tampa Bay just lacks the ability to get the puck out of their own zone.
"That's the type of guy he is to put the blame on himself," Lecavalier said of Smith. "But in front of him, the defense, the forwards, we gave them (the Capitals) too many Grade A opportunities."
"We have a team where we need all hands on deck, and we have a lot of guys on hand, but not enough," Tocchet added. "There are certain guys—Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, (Steve) Downie, Vinny (Lecavalier)—the past couple of games came to play, and there are some other guys who want to play in the playoffs. Some other guys, I don't know."
The team needs to get it figured out quickly. Atlanta has assumed the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and they come in to the St. Pete Times Forum tomorrow night in yet another "four point game".
Another Tampa Bay loss could put the Lightning too far back in the pack to rally for a playoff berth.
A win puts the Lightning back within a single point, despite the skid.
"There are guys who want to win and are playing hard," Tocchet said. "I'm proud of those guys."
The Lightning need to find a few more in their locker room if they hope to make a playoff run.
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